With the Williams Sisters, there’s more to watch than tennis
Between them the sisters have 21 Grand Slam singles titles. That is 21 more than we have managed. Between them the sisters have won eight gold medals at the Olympics. That is more than the combined tally of India’s all-medal winners in London. Yet the Williams Sisters, Venus, the older one by 15 months, and Serena, the little girl who could arguably be the greatest player in women’s tennis history, also do other things well. Notably, pick and choose their tournaments.
For much of the year they would be editing magazines, designing jewellery and apparel. Then cometh the time for Grand Slams and the sisters would announce, “We are ready.” Ready they almost always were, in the process making a mockery of WTA rankings. So we have had a peculiar spectacle of Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki being ranked number one in the world without a Major in their tally and the Williams sisters walking away with the Grand Slams!
Hey, but the Williams Sisters don’t make news only with their racquets, however loud and furious be their protestations. Ask anybody who maintains a little note in his January diary for Australian Open or May for French Open or wet, wet June for the one and only Wimbledon. Or even those who wait for the last Grand Slam of the year, the U.S. Open, now heading into its second week this Sunday. Every Slam, the sisters make a style statement on court with Venus leading the way by a distance. Hard to say there is always something to admire from the way she designs her clothes—– she has her own apparel line called EleVen which is understandably more sober. Incidentally, she launched her Spring 2012 collection full of ready-to-wear tank tops and flutter skirts. Yet once on the court, there is one thing about Venus: if her game is not doing the talking, her clothes are. And then there are days tennis fans and fashion freaks are in for a bonus: the days when her serve is on song — she has just recorded the fastest serve, timed at 199.5 km in the U.S. Open — and Venus does a little girl dance in clothes she could exchange with a girl one-tenth her age! At the Australian Open last year, she was bold, no, reckless in experimenting with a canary yellow latticed style top with a peek-a-boo front!
The Aussies were not short of sniggers. The tennis fans got more ammunition when she tried a silver firework pattern on a black corset-style top. They were quietened only when Venus, then riding a crest with her tennis, sported a turquoise blue striped dress with a zipper in front. At the French Open last year, Venus tried illusion shorts which were just body-coloured shorts underneath a black corset with red lace! The fashion capital was shocked. Some found the revealing outfit risqué. Venus smiled. As she did at the Wimbledon, when purists at the most tradition-bound tournament were aghast to see her in a leafy playsuit with gold-colour shorts. The feather-light dress came with a cut deep enough to attract a lingering look at the back!
This year’s U.S. Open, though, has been a coming of age for Venus the designer. Gone is the penchant for exaggerated experimentation with light fabrics. Instead, she appears almost demure at the Open in her floral dress with red roses being compensated by black stems.
For all the attention she has drawn, Venus, who promotes her own brand on court, cannot complain. Girls with a more eye-catching dress sense, including Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Sabine Lisiciki and Sorana Cirstea, get by unnoticed. It is what Venus does with her tennis that gets fashion pundits to talk of her outfits! And she has been confident enough to carry seven outfits for each Slam — four for the early rounds, one each for the quarters, semis and the final! That she has not, of late, had to dip into many of them is another story.
Talking of stories, the very fact that she is back on the tennis court is the stuff of fairytales. Down and almost out of tennis last year when she was diagnosed with the constantly debilitating autoimmune disease which strikes at joints and muscles, resulting in fatigue, her comeback is admirable. Called Sjogren’s Syndrome, it is an incurable disease. It has failed to keep Venus away from the court: she has been strong enough to win the doubles at the Wimbledon and the Olympics besides reaching Cincinnati Open singles semis!
With Serena the style statement begins right at the top: with her wavy hair, you can decipher not just the wind direction but also the speed! At the Wimbledon she defied not just her opponents but also rules by using a purple headband and same colour long-ish shorts — the tournament dictates that players skip coloured clothing! Of course her top — short, really short — came with two broad straps at the shoulders. It was a marked improvement over a trench dress she had used a few years ago! Not to forget floral hot-pink leggings she once showed up in!
Incidentally, beyond her fast serve, Serena says it all through her self-styled jewellery. Her leopard circle line of rings and necklaces is sold online. She has her label own called Aneres — her name backwards! At the Olympics, both the sisters, otherwise dressed in the colours of the flag, expressed themselves with braids, beads and all. If Serena’s hair was all about a bird-in-the-nest look, Venus happily wore beads, bling, etc. Together, with the gold medals around their neck, they presented quite a picture!
Yes, at one time Martina Navratilova added muscle and power to women’s tennis and Monica Seles upped the decibel level. The Williams Sisters have brought unprecedented glamour to the tennis courts, allying it with their speed-gun games. Way to go!