30 JUNE 2001, Page 71

Such detested sisters

Simon Barnes

RICHARD WILLIAMS repeatedly tells the world that the reason everybody hates his tennis-playing daughters is that they are black, He is completely wrong. That's the reason why nobody dares to hate them.

It cannot he denied that there is a fair amount to dislike. Between them, Venus and Serena do a very good impersonation of the ugly American — the sort who is always at the next table to you in Tuscany or Venice discussing the plumbing and screaming at the waiter because he is fresh out of peanut butter and jelly. and the Coke isn't cold enough.

Williams is an extraordinary man, and it is his triumph to have lifted his girls from the nasty bits of LA to global stardom. Williams is good on ghettoes — a bit like the millionaire Yorkshirernan in Monty Python: 'Lookshurry! We dreamed of crack-dealers with fully automatic weapons by our tennis courts. Ours had atom bombs. . '

He has brought up his daughters to believe in all sincerity that they are the best, and they both do their insect-smearing walk across the courts of the world without ever once acknowledging an opponent's skill.

After Venus won the women's singles at Wimbledon last year, Richard cavorted before the cameras with a handwritten notice: 'It's Venus's party and nobody came'. This was presumably intended as an insult to the losing finalist, Lindsay Davenport.

It's not endearing. The girls make their own rules, and both came to Wimbledon this year without bothering to practise. Sometimes this 'we're so good we can do what we like' stuff works, which annoys the rest even more. But it doesn't make for consistency.

Things with the Williamses are always coming to a head, but the brightest flashpoint came at the tournament at Indian Wells when the sisters were drawn against each other in the semis. With the crowds already in their seats, Venus withdrew: an Injury' had suddenly blown up.

The following day, in the final, Serena was booed. 'I think Indian Wells disgraced all America,' Williams said.

He went on to speak about the hatred in the locker room for his daughters, which was due to jealousy, and to bias against them in the media because they are black and from the wrong side of the tracks. 'Don't let the forces of evil beat you,' Williams said.

This is the same sort of audience — white middle-class — and the same media — ditto — that has made a god-king of Tiger Woods. Woods is black and a golfer, and is regarded in some circles as totally flawless.

Perhaps this is because his father, Earl — who once said that his son would be greater than Buddha — has learnt when to shut up. Perhaps it comes down to a more sensible approach to dealing with the public.

Or perhaps it's a cut-of-his-jib situation: Woods's modest bearing in triumph (and, for that matter, in occasional disaster) strikes home. Or perhaps the point is that Woods is supremely talented and therefore easy in himself, while the girls are very good. but show no signs of being truly great. For this missing ingredient they substitute bluster and arrogance.

The media would love to love them. It would make life so much easier. Writing about a pair of unlovable black girls is so complicated. If only they were white and priv

ileged then we could really get stuck in.