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Williams sisters have not gotten their due respect

By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 2, 2003

Williams and Williams. They're the best. One, that's Serena. Two is Venus. Three is not visible in their tennis rearview mirror. Every major championship, it's a family final. It could go on for a while. This is uniquely remarkable.

Is that groaning I hear?

L'il Sis wipes out the world in earlier tournament rounds, then she handles Venus for the championship. Four times in a row. Winning the Australian Open completed the "Serena Slam." She's done a Tiger Woods, embracing all four Grand Slam trophies at once.

So why aren't the cheers more vociferous from all 50 states? Shouldn't the Bushes be toasting Serena, and Venus too, on the White House lawn? Isn't this another sporting reason to be proud to be an American?

But, I know, there are dissenters. Multitudes of them. Especially tennis mavens who regularly watch, play and celebrate the game. You must hear the murmurs. Comments, some accompanied by turned-up noses, that it's "not good for the sport" to have the same pair -- especially siblings -- in every conclusion from Wimbledon to Paris to New York to Down Under.

Would the talk be different is these were Davenport sisters or Capriati sisters or Evert sisters? Remember the grumbling when a muscular, gifted Czech-turned-Yank named Martina Navratilova began to regularly beat the hugely popular Chris Evert as well as everybody else?

Serena/Venus is Martina squared.

Is race an effect? I'm just asking, not declaring. In the early months of Tiger's brilliance on the PGA Tour, there was a nasty flood of anti-Woods comments. Like the Williamses, he was a black talent in a game that was 98 percent far lighter hues.

But the Californian-turned-Floridian (a background he shares with Serena and Venus) kept achieving, behaving in classy fashion and showing mass respect for his sport and its history. Eventually, the furor eased, but never disappeared.

Woods is now in mega demand. Not that some don't continue to root for him to fail; often laying it on being "good for the game." But a majority of detractors has evolved, allowing Tiger a roaring wealth of approval and status.

I've been around the Williams women at three events, including two Wimbledons. They are bright, considerate, interesting and carry themselves as grand champions should. They have interests, mostly artsy, beyond the green rectangular courts. If there's a public problem with the Serena/Venus stronghold, don't blame them.

Fault belongs to those who chase them. Like among the pros who pursue Woods, dedication has reached new highs, both physically and mentally. Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson have the skills and power to run with Tiger, and a couple dozen more golfers aren't far behind. No such wealth of capable chasers of the Williamses. Perhaps, the best chance for a Serena/Venus drop-off is their own boredom.

Where are you, Three and Four and Five and ... ?

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THOUGHTS: It's right for the NFL to consult John Lynch and other crushing hitters for discussion with officials on judging helmet-to-helmet collisions after a season when overly cautious zebras too often erred on plays where actions were hardly questionable. It'd be even more correct for the NFL to reshape its overtime method, taking a cue from college football, allowing each team at least one offensive possession. For some obvious reasons, I thought of Pete Rose and Mike Tyson upon hearing, from a Harrison Ford movie: "He thinks morals are a painting on a wall and that scruples are Russian money."

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A FEW MORE: It's been a cold, snowy winter in Virginia where I live, but there's no validity to the rumor that I'm trading my SUV for a Zamboni. ... Having some newspaper-dude bias, it's fascinating to see how many of TV's most capable sports reporters/analysts have massive print-media backgrounds, including Chris Mortensen, Michael Wilbon, John Clayton, Dan Le Batard, Sal Palantonio, Lesley Visser, Ed Werder, Jayson Stark, Tony Kornheiser, Bob Ryan, David Aldrich, Bud Collins, Jack Whittaker, Jim McKay and the late, great Will McDonough.

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Whatever happened to Dave Pear?

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