Posted: Thursday May 11, 2006 11:09AM; Updated: Thursday May 11, 2006 11:30AM
Venus and Serena Williams seem to be known more for their celebrity appearances than their tennis these days.
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Move over, Paris and Nicky -- there's a new sister act in Tinseltown. In case anyone missed the press release, Venus and Serena Williams, the sports world's favorite sister act, have officially gone Hollywood. That's right, Hollywood: lights, camera, paparazzi!
You see, just like being a champion, becoming an illustrious VIP on the Celeb-O-Meter is all the rage among today's athletes, and the Williams sisters are no exception.
Gone are the days when Venus and Serena's first priority was to slay the competition on the hard courts with their jaw-dropping 100-mph serves and killer baseliners. Gone are the all-Williams finals and their sheer dominance. Venus and Serena have traded in their tennis rackets to become Hilton-esque socialites of their sport.
One minute they're partying with Jay-Z and Beyonce at the 40/40 club in New York City, the next they're hanging with British billionaire Richard Branson at Club Bed in South Beach. At times when they should be practicing, they're designing clothes and and making guest appearance on prime-time shows such as ER and Law & Order: SVU. They even had their own six-episode reality show last summer, Venus & Serena: For Real, on the ABC Family channel.
Sure, they may have picked up a racket along the way, but let's face it: Venus and Serena both know that tennis gets you no respect in Hollywood. After all, who outside of the tennis world gives a hoot about the likes of LindsayDavenport?
Actually, this shift in careers for Venus and Serena should be of little surprise to tennis purists. After all, proud PapaRichard did warn us that both girls would retire by age 25. And it was Serena who, following her 2004 Wimbledon final loss to Maria Sharapova, was asked how, as a tennis superstar, she would respond to the challenge from the Russian teenager.
"A tennis superstar?" Serena replied. "I'm not a tennis superstar. I'm a superstar. Period. Like Britney Spears."
I guess tennis superstars may be born on the court, but they live and die in Hollywood.
What is surprising is the way in which Venus and Serena have chosen to make the transition from tennis into their next phase of life. Instead of retiring at the top of their game and bowing out gracefully like Chris Evert or Pete Sampras, the Williams sisters have elected to keep one foot on the court and one foot on the red carpet. They give lackluster performances in one tournament over here and then paint the town red over there for the next two months.
These days, when the sisters show up to play, they are often injured, ill-fit and unprepared. They take the court only to get clobbered by the Russians, the Belgians or some cute kid from Slovakia and then bark at anyone who dares suggest they aren't dedicating enough time to their sport.
At this year's Australian Open, Venus' game was so sluggish and error-filled that she was bounced in the first round by some Bulgarian whose name I can't remember. Not to be outdone, Serena crashed and burned in the third round and was dogged in the press about her constant wheezing between points and her rapid weight gain. What happened to the Williams' pride? Their champion swagger? It seems that has all been replaced by the "Party Over Here" attitude.
Venus recently competed in only her second tournament of 2006 (she lost in the quarters of Poland's J&S Cup) while Serena hasn't played in a tournament since the Aussie Open in January. Both pulled out of matches at Indian Wells, the NASDAQ-100 and the Family Circle Cup, citing a host of injuries. Then, last week, Serena announced that she would also miss this year's French Open and Wimbledon because of her ailing knee.
In the meantime, both have been back and forth to Los Angeles and Miami several times to frolic with the stars. They were in L.A. for the Vanity Fair Oscars party in March. They were seen carousing with rappers Pharrell Williams and Busta Rhymes at Miami hot spot Mansion. Then they were with Lydia Hearst at club Opium and later Paris Hilton at The Fifth on South Beach. Last weekend they were decked out in their finest at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. With a bevy of events like these on their social calendar, who has time for that little thing called tennis?
Through it all Venus has somehow managed to maintain a reputable No. 12 ranking (thanks to her surprising Wimbledon victory last year). But Serena is now ranked a laughable 105th in the world. At the rate they're going, they'll be known more for being ridiculous Hilton wannabes than for the tennis greats they once were.
Who knows, maybe they grew tired of the pressures and the scrutiny of being No. 1. Maybe they got sick of the excruciating matches, the six- to eight-hour days of nothing but PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE or being coached by that bumbling Papa Richard. If that's the case, you can't really blame them for turning to the lure of Hollywood for comfort.
Whatever the cause of their discomfort, it's time to clean up this mess that they have made all over themselves. If they're sick of tennis and want to party, they should retire now while people still remember their greatness. Take a bow and make a stylish exit before the Williams name is forever tarnished and associated with the term "has-been."
No one will blame them. In fact, I'd like to think we'd all be grateful. Lord knows it's been painful watching their listless performances tournament after tournament, wondering if we'll ever again see the athletic greatness that allowed us all to fall in love with them in the first place.
They should save their good name while they still have the chance before they truly become the laughingstocks of their profession, much like the real Paris and Nicky.