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Matchless Frustration

She walked in, head held high, smiling defiantly. She wore long purple pants. She didn’t limp.

Another chapter in the Williams family circus was taking place, this time with older sister Venus in the middle ring. About the time she was scheduled to be on center court, trading ground strokes with her sister, Serena, in the Thursday night semifinals of arguably the sixth or seventh biggest tennis tournament in the world, before a crowd of 11,767, Venus was Tefloning the press.

No, that’s not a verb, except when it comes to the Williams family, which has made it so. There never seem to be answers with them, just evasive deflections, each packaged in smirks that can only be read to say: “We will never let you Dopes in on our game.”

The Dopes were there to hear why Venus had just defaulted to Serena. The Dopes and the fans were told that Venus had tendinitis in her right knee and couldn’t play, and the Dopes, who are the conduits to the public in such things, were there seeking details.

The Dopes were, sad to say, suspicious, maybe even a bit cynical, since the Dopes have seen versions of this story before. The sisters don’t play each other much. They’ve been around and among the top players on the women’s tour for the last four years, yet have played only five times. And when they have played, it hasn’t always looked, well, normal.

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The Dopes have this axiom: If something looks like a horse and smells like a horse, it usually is a horse.

The Dopes heard from Serena first. She looked a bit less defiant, a bit more confused. Maybe she’s not in on the game, either.

“The family, we’re competitors,” she said, in response to a question about the veracity of Venus’ injury. “We’re here to compete. In the end, we’re going to have to play each other eventually.”

In the end? Eventually? What are they saving themselves for--a hyped senior tour?

Serena also said: “We’d rather play each other in the final of a Grand Slam or the semifinals of a Grand Slam, or the semifinals of a bigger tournament, or the finals.”

She was asked if this wasn’t a bigger tournament, and her answer wandered about for seven sentences without arriving anywhere.

When Venus met the press, she was asked about the frequent rumor and speculation that, whenever the sisters are to play each other, their father, Richard, orchestrates the result. That wasn’t just rampant cynicism by the Dopes, but an issue that had been brought up publicly, with no prompting from even the Dopes, by Russian player Elena Dementieva, who said after her loss to Venus Wednesday that the Thursday semifinal between the sisters would be “decided by Richard.”

Lest nobody misunderstand, this is serious stuff. If results of sports events are predetermined, the credibility of the sport and the people involved are ruined. The public that buys the tickets and watches on TV simply goes away. People need to know that athletic competition is just that. If tennis fans think this is the World Wrestling Federation, they stop being tennis fans.

There are so many questions here.

If these situations are truly just happenstance; if Venus’ knee truly did get sore just in time for her match with Serena; if all this is just the product of a bunch of jealous competitors on the women’s tour and a bunch of Dopes with overactive curiosity glands, then why don’t the Williamses set the record straight? When they are asked about the rumor and innuendo that constantly swirl around them, they respond with smirks and half-hearted denials.

Among the answers Venus gave to the rumor questions Thursday night were, “Everyone has their own opinion.” And, “I guess rumors are more exciting than the truth.”

They deny, but with less than the normal conviction, even anger, one would expect in the face of such serious issues. How about pounding on the table and saying it ain’t so? How about some tears, some anger?

Instead, we get smirks and “I don’t knows” and feeble, misguided attempts at humor. When Venus was asked about the line of people at the ticket windows, asking for their money back, she giggled and said, “I don’t have any money to give them.”

Huh?

Since Venus is only 20 and Serena 19, it would seem appropriate for an adult to step up, especially one named Richard. But when he was reached by phone Thursday night and asked about Venus’ injury, he answered, “I’m not God,” and hung up.

It’s impossible to know whether the knee injury was truly the reason Venus didn’t play, just like it is impossible to know how much truth there is to the English papers the sisters talk about writing, the classes they say they are taking, the newspaper they say they put out, the fashion classes they say they take and the clothes they say they design.

Even the other players, men and women, don’t know, but they seem to wonder. Pete Sampras was asked about it after his win Thursday night, and he said, “Well, I guess it flared up, tendinitis.”

Then he grinned and rolled his eyes.

And Sampras is no Dope.


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