Numbers Aside, Venus is Female Player of Decade
It's a pet peeve of mine that people think of Venus Williams and Serena Williams as the same person, multiplied by two. They are not.
Sure, it's understandable. They grew up together, on the same courts together, hitting the same dead balls together that their father fed them from a shopping cart in Compton, Calif. And they're sisters, and stand out together as black athletes in a mostly white game.
Well, we're at the end of a decade now, and it's a moment to look back and see things in a bigger picture, a broader view.
This is about naming the women's tennis Player of the Decade, and it's time to choose between the two. Actually, the player who was No. 1 longest during the decade, by far, was Justine Henin.
The task, though, is to pick one Williams sister. Over the decade, Serena has clearly emerged as the better player, winning more majors than Venus and staying at the top longer. She's there now, too.
But the Player of the Decade?
If it were just about numbers, then there would be no need to name anyone, have players of an era, or Hall of Fame votes. Just punch numbers into your calculator, hit the equals sign, and that's it? No.
"I want to signal Venus Williams as well,'' said Larry Scott, in his farewell press conference as the WTA Tour's CEO this summer. "She has provided instrumental leadership on a few key occasions over the years, and someone I've worked with as a doubles partner on some of the most important things that we've done. She's been a very selfless leader on key occasions.''
Venus is the only current player that Scott made a point to thank. Her numbers are great, even if not as great as Serena's. But she has done more for tennis, broken down barriers, done it with class and grace in public.
And she also has picked up the torch from Billie Jean King, pushing hard behind the scenes for equality for women.
But it's more than that, too. Because Serena has become the crossover star for the sport, providing, more than Venus, a superstar that's part of pop culture. Serena has taken tennis into the mainstream.
The thing is, Venus has been there to pave Serena's way. She also has been the safety net for all of Serena's missteps.
What I'm saying is this: Venus' behavior and leadership allows Serena to be Serena. And for those who want to dislike the Williams sisters as one, Venus gives nothing to hang on to.
History looks only at numbers, unfortunately, and decides what matters most by mathematical equation. Venus won seven majors in this decade, and Serena won 10, a total of 11 for her career. Venus has been No. 1 for just 11 weeks in her career, and Serena far longer.
Some people have already written about Players of the Decade, and until now, I think, it has been unanimous for Serena.
I can understand that. She has been hugely important for tennis.
But part of Serena's legacy, despite all the greatness, is that she has not fulfilled her amazing potential. She has shown up at tournaments out of shape. Venus has not.
She has gone long stretches without trying during tournaments that aren't majors, which is clear to the ticket-buying people watching.
Venus doesn't do that.
"It's hard to call (Serena) an underachiever,'' Martina Navratilova told the Associated Press. "But in my mind, she could have been better.''
Serena also made worldwide headlines with her profanity-laced threats to a tiny line judge at this year's U.S. Open. Venus, who will never have a moment like that, was there in a press conference two days later, sitting next to Serena and acting as the protective big sister when questions got tough. They had just won the doubles title, but that's not what anyone wanted to talk about.
A few years ago, too, the sisters came to Chicago for a charity event for a local children's hospital. Serena was moody and distracted during media interviews, talking on her cellphone. Meanwhile, Venus smiled and raved about the charity.
Do those types of things have to do with being a player? I think so.
So do Venus' five Wimbledon titles.
Here's another number: Venus has won 41 tour titles in her career to Serena's 35.
"Some of you may remember in 2005, 2006, she (Venus) came with me to meet with the Grand Slam Committee here the day before she was going to contest the final,'' Scott said at Wimbledon. "She actually called me and said she wanted to do more for gender equality.
"That led to the creation of the UNESCO Gender Equality Program. She's taken initiative with me and whenever I've gone back to her, she's always been there on key issues.''
Look, Venus and Serena have revolutionized women's sports together.
They brought power and athleticism into the game, and carried tennis throughout the decade.
But they're not one person, multiplied by two. So pick one.
Venus had all the expectations, all the pressure. She arrived first and cleared the way for Serena and made history on the court, too.
The record books will take Serena. I'll take Venus.
Email me at email@example.com