She couldn't have been more wrong. Venus, for starters, has won the last two Wimbledons and U.S. Opens. And had the Williams sisters played as many tournaments as the other top women, they most likely would have been Nos. 1 and 2 much earlier. What's more, Capriati, Davenport and Belgium's Kim Clijsters—the three players best able to match the sisters' power—have combined to beat the Williamses just once in their last 13 encounters. "Right now they're clearly dominating," says Nathalie Tauziat, a Top 10 player last year who's now a commentator for French TV. "The scary thing is, they're just starting to enter their prime years."
If the Williamses are threatening to Tigerize women's tennis, the men's game suffers the opposite fate: unremitting parity. Say, what happened to Switzerland's Roger Federer, the supposed breakout star, who won the big tune-up in Hamburg and whose likeness was splayed on a gigantic billboard outside the French Open grounds? He couldn't manage a set in his first-round match against Morocco's flashy Hicham Arazi. Whither Aussie Lleyton Hewitt, the top-ranked ATP player? He lost in the fourth round and left Roland Garros to jeers for having decapitated court-side geraniums with his racket. What of Sweden's Thomas Johansson, who won the Australian Open? Out in round 2. As for Russia's Marat Safin, the handsome, personable all-surface star, he lost in the semis and then asserted that "it's not a big deal" if he never wins another Grand Slam event.
The men's champion in Paris, Spain's Albert Costa, played classic dirtball tennis, outhustling countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero in a four-set final. In so doing he became the eighth male player to win a title in the last eight Grand Slam events. "Everybody can beat anybody" says Safin.
While this makes for highly competitive matches, it's hard for the ATP to market and promote players who are not consistent winners. Small wonder, then, that the men's tour has been making overtures to the WTA, inviting the women's tour to relocate its offices from St. Petersburg to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where the men are headquartered, and looking into the possibility of holding more joint events. This interest in joining forces with the women's game-unimaginable five years ago—has been glossed over with corporate-speak such as "building synergies," "creating efficiencies" and "integrating resources." But it boils down to this: 32-year-old Andre Agassi won't be around much longer, and no other male player comes close to the international star wattage of the Williamses. Why not try to get in on the action? Says Kevin Wulff, the WTA tour's CEO, "[Courting the women] is the smart thing to do, and they realize it."
There's one glitch in the women's game, however, one that even Richard Williams probably didn't envision. For any number of reasons—the sisters' familiarity with each other's games, their similarity in style, their emotional bond, their sharing of a coach—matches between Serena and Venus have, invariably, been stinkers. The sisters may be the New York Yankees of tennis, a dominant force amassing championships in bulk, but their finals against each other feel more like split-squad games than a World Series. Plus, given that they'll be on opposite sides of the draw by virtue of their rankings, the Williams-Williams final will surely become more common.
On Saturday the capacity crowd at Roland Garros was restrained throughout both sets, unsure whether to back one sister at the expense of the other, aghast at the mis-hits that landed in a different arrondissement from the court. The fans saved their loudest applause and displays of emotion for the trophy ceremony. The sisters won over the Parisians by delivering part of their addresses en fran�ais. Then, as Serena held the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen aloft, her older sister took hold of a Nikon SLR camera and began taking snapshots.
Watching them charm the crowd on one of tennis's grandest stages, one couldn't help marveling at how far they've come from the pocked blacktop courts of Comp-ton, Calif., where they first learned to belt a tennis ball and were imbued with their us-against-the-world attitude. More than a decade later, they hit their strokes more ferociously than ever, and "us" is winning in a romp.