Brandi's eyes roll back in her head, the way a mother's eyes will do. Uh-huh. Just don't get hurt.
The Williamses' trip started on Jan. 6. Brandi had told Venus and Serena that the weather was going to be sunny and hot in Australia and maybe sunglasses would be a good investment. The girls never liked sunglasses, but Brandi had dragged them to a high-end department store, and suddenly the displays of sunglasses were in front of them. Hey, sunglasses! Expensive sunglasses! Shopping! The girls were now the Sunglass Girls—their name. They suddenly owned a lot of sunglasses in different styles.
The flight to Australia took forever, Florida to Los Angeles, L.A. to Sydney. The girls' father, Richard, was going to go, and the Williamses were going to travel business-class. Brandi was astounded at the price, more than $29,000 for the family. She thought it almost sinful. A lot of people work a year for less than $29,000. Richard decided not to go. Brandi decided she and the girls would travel coach for slightly more than $6,000. Stuffed into a stuffed plane from Los Angeles—6' 1" Venus in the aisle seat to get room for her long legs—they landed in Sydney 14 hours later. Television cameras were waiting at the airport.
The reception was the start of the MTV pace. Venus! Serena! Australia! First, the girls played in an Australian Open warmup, the Adidas International in Sydney. Even though Venus had made that famous run to the U.S. Open final in September, she didn't have enough computer points to be seeded in Sydney. Serena, who had played only 15 matches as a pro, wasn't even in the field. To get into the draw, she had to win a qualifying match, which she did.
The girls then stormed through the tournament. In the second round, Venus won a dramatic 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Martina Hingis, the top-ranked woman in the world. Bothered by cramps in the final set ("I told her to drink water in this heat, she just didn't do it," Brandi said afterward. "She'll do it now"), Venus cried as she was treated at courtside. She wasn't crying from pain. She was crying because she thought she might have to quit just when she knew she was going to beat Hingis. Serena knocked off the second-seeded Davenport in the other bracket, and for a moment, with both Williamses in the semifinals, it looked as if they might meet for the first time as pros, in the final. Arantxa S�nchez Vicario took care of that, beating Serena in the semis and Venus in the final, but the idea was established that the Sunglass Girls were here for business.
" Serena was worn out by the time she got to the semis, I think," Brandi said. "She played seven matches in a short time. Venus was tired, too, I think. The final was her fifth match."
The draw for the Open was a surprise: It had the sisters playing each other in the second round. They attacked each other as if they were strangers, grunting on every shot, pounding away for winners. The match was played on Center Court on the third day of the tournament, something special for two unseeded players.
Venus won, 7-6, 6-1. The only real disappointment was that Serena forgot her sunglasses. The pictures at the end weren't what the girls had wanted.
"The first time they ever played each other was in a tournament in Indian Wells, when we were living in California," Brandi says. " Serena wasn't supposed to be in it, but she entered herself, filled out all the forms and everything. She was eight years old. She said she was in the tournament, and I said, 'No, you're not,' and she told me to check with the organizers. There she was, entered. Serena wound up losing to Venus in the final."
The Australian Open has become an extension of that first event. Bigger tournament, bigger girls, but the same approach. The girls' total entourage is Brandi. No agent, no manager, no handlers. Brandi sits and watches and applauds the good shots of both her daughters and their opponents. Venus and Serena meet her afterward and ask her for some "units," money for food in the players' cafeteria or the food court at the hotel.