The Whole thing is terrible. Venus Williams, who's 17 years old, had to play her sister, Serena Williams, who's 16 years old, in the second round of the Australian Open last week. Someone had to win and someone had to lose, rules are rules, and Venus won and Serena lost. Terrible. Serena is getting to have more fun.
"Are you going to play against a man tomorrow?" someone asks Venus.
"No, I can't," she says sadly. "I'm still in the regular tournament."
Terrible. This is Sunday, the end of the first week of the two-week tournament. Serena is walking around with a page ripped out of the ATP tour press guide, on which is printed the biography of someone named Karsten Braasch, German, 30 years old, left-handed, ranked 226th in the male world at the end of 1997. Serena has talked him into playing a one-set match in the next few days. Serena says she's "going to take him out." She says this in an Arnold Schwarzenegger way.
Venus, alas, still has to play women. She has moved along to the quarterfinals (she was scheduled to play second-seeded Lindsay Davenport on Tuesday) on the way to a possible first Grand Slam title—heck, first professional title. Terrible. Why is there not more time in a teenager's day?
"I am going to play against a man before I leave here," Venus says in the little press conference amphitheater at Melbourne Park after dispatching Patty Schnyder 6-4, 6-1. "I just have to fit it in."
The idea of playing against men—25 years after Billie Jean King's grand showdown with Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome—is the latest inspiration of the two sisters from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., on their excellent adventure through this new country on this new continent in this new hemisphere at the start of this new season. Hey, it's summer down here! Hey, look at all these people! Hey, look at all these boys! The tournament is a daily hoot, not some dour climb for dollars and prestige.
Mornings start at six at the hotel, seven on the practice court. Matches arrive one after the other, day after day. Venus's singles match on Center Court one day blends into her doubles match with Serena on Court 3 the next day—the two girls with the curious beaded hair are treated by the almost totally white Australian crowd as if they were the Spice Girls here for a concert—or Serena's mixed-doubles match on Court 2 or Venus's mixed-doubles match on...when's that German going to play Serena, anyway? Is he ducking her? This is life inside some MTV video, sped up, recorded by a shaky handheld camera. Teenage life to the maximum.
" Serena says she's going to what?" the sisters' mother, coach and manager, Brandi, asks.
"She says she's going to play against a guy," a reporter says.