Question his sanity. Disapprove of his trash talk, his serial boasting, his race-baiting. Doubt any financial figure he cites in conversation. But say this about Richard Williams: The man can forecast tennis greatness. A decade ago Williams pere divined that, one day, his daughters, Venus and Serena, would pass tennis' No.1 ranking back and forth as if it were on a lazy Susan. He added that Venus would break through first, but Serena would fare better in the long run. Sure enough, while Venus established her bona fides in 2000 and 2001 -- 2002 was the year of Serena's ascent. Her game a potent cocktail of power, speed and will, she didn't so much beat her opponents as she garroted them. Not only did she win the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open, but she garnished those majors with five other titles and won more than $3.9 million in prize money. She also managed to overcome a mental block and play well against her big sister. In four matches against Venus -- three of them in Grand Slam finals -- Serena didn't so much as drop a set. At a time when women's tennis has never been more competitive, Serena turned in the most dominating year since Steffi Graf won all four majors in 1988. "She just made up her mind to be the best," says Oracene Williams, the family matriarch and Venus and Serena's coach. "It was that simple." More heartening still, Serena did it while projecting class and grace, steering clear of the controversies and melodrama that has sometimes sullied the sisters' achievements in the past. This hasn't been lost on Madison Avenue. Serena already makes multiples of her on-court income in endorsement deals and soon Nike is expected to break the bank to sign her to a shoe deal. And why not? She is only 21 and -- pity the rest of the WTA Tour field -- just starting to enter her prime.
Rick Reilly: Double Whammy
Frank Deford: Alone and together atop their sport
Sports Illustrated, Sept. 16, 2002: A grand occasion
Sports Illustrated, July 15-22, 2002: Serves & follies
Sports Illustrated, June 17, 2002: The two and only
Sports Illustrated Scrapbook: Venus and Serena Williams
Photograph by Al Bello/Getty Images