Richard sets an orange cone in the deuce service court. For a couple of minutes Serena serves ball after ball, but none touch the cone. Richard approaches Serena and stands silently no more than four feet from her. He folds his hands. Serena tosses, stretches and serves the ball, her racket whistling past Richard's face. He doesn't flinch. The ball hits the cone. She hits another. The ball hits the cone. "Five more," he says. Serena finishes, walks over to the table and chairs at courtside and files her nails. After two minutes she walks back on the court, throws a few balls over the net, serves a few lefthanded, rallies for 10 minutes with Richard. He slaps most of his shots wide, some into the net, a few on target. "Keep your old ass down," he mumbles to himself. "You're not looking at it." Serena hammers a few lax forehands, and Richard abruptly stops, approaches the net and says, chuckling, "Come here." Serena trudges up, and Richard hugs her, and they kiss lightly on the lips. "I love you," he says, and just like that, the session ends.
Oracene says that Richard and Serena are very much alike, both more outgoing and verbal than Venus. For years Richard has proclaimed that Serena will be the better player of the two, and people may soon have to admit he was right about that, too. No one has ever risen as fast through the WTA ranks—from 453 to the Top 20—than Serena did in her first eight months on tour, beginning in October 1997, and she hasn't slackened the pace. After she won a season-best 16 straight matches this year, beating Grand Slam queens Graf, Hingis, Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport in the process, everyone from Mary Pierce to Anna Kournikova to Venus agreed that of the two sisters, Serena plays with greater variety and ease. "I think Serena has more clean shots than her sister," says Spirlea. "She hits the ball harder. She can mix it easier than Venus. She can be Number 1."
Plus Serena benefits from the motivation of both love and revenge. Venus can take or leave tennis anytime, Oracene says, but Serena adores the game and "she's meaner. Venus is more controlled. Serena can be very calculating if you do anything to her. She won't forget it. She'll pop you." Serena learned early: Somebody always pays. Once, when she was much younger and driving in the car with her father, Richard was lecturing her on the virtues of admitting when you commit a wrong. So Serena confessed, "Remember, Daddy, when you lost your dentures last week? I threw them away." Richard says he drove to the next stoplight, "got out and whipped her ass."
Asked what she likes best about the game, Serena doesn't hesitate: "Winning. I like going out and beating up on people. I get joy out of that. I really do."
Serena says she is "destined" to be a champion. During that 12-hour negotiating session between Milchan and Richard, Serena put her head down on the desk and fell asleep. But when Milchan asked Richard how he could be so sure of her greatness, Serena bolted upright and snapped, "Do you have any doubt I'll be in the top five?"
Venus is the only opponent she hasn't solved. Serena hasn't beaten her in three matches on the tour, and their relatives as well as other players agree that Serena is still intimidated by the family pecking order. She also says that whenever she envisions winning a Grand Slam title, the only opponent she can conjure up is Venus. Serena also says she's happy that, for the most part, they aren't playing the same tournaments. "I've never lost to anyone three times in a row, not even the Number 1 player in the world," Serena says, sounding dumbfounded. "I have to realize I can win."
It has been 20 minutes already, and still only one man in the room knows why he's here. The other nine people gathered around the table—teachers and administrators at Fort Pierce's Garden City Technology Elementary Magnet School and local community leaders—have been staring politely at Richard Williams as he has rambled from subject to subject, from his new bus company to Jewish-owned TV stations to computers to the educational and anticrime programs he has supported with time and money in Haines City, Fla., and Pahokee, Fla., from the values of "white peoples" to the making of TV commercials to Venus's and Serena's future careers in modeling. His hosts were expecting something different—a chance for the school's students to meet Serena and a commitment from Richard to finance an outreach program for kids in Fort Pierce—and when Richard says something about the importance of making a plan, the principal of Garden City Elementary, Dr. Martha Rahming, grabs her opening.
"So...as far as Garden City is concerned—that's where my heart is—are we, ah, talking about developing a plan with you?" she says.
"My plan is so huge, I don't even know if I can do it," Richard says. "My plan would be to take a small church and make that church bigger than any church in the U.S. To do all that, you have to have the involvement of a school and a lot of peoples involved. You have to have major media. I love to have the media bash me. You know why? You do something good and save someone's life, no one cares. But all of us saw the news last week in Colorado—and why, do you know? Because it was bad news. You want to be famous? Get you some bad news."
Someone comes in to tell Richard his SUV is blocking the driveway. When he leaves the room, a community representative says, "We've got to tone him down and get him to what he's going to do for this county."