Since the Open era in tennis began in 1968, few parents can boast of having guided an offspring to No. 1 in the world. Richard Williams is the only coach/dad who has done it twice, with daughters nearly equal in talent but totally different in personality… Venus, who has won six Grand Slam titles and $17.8 million in prize money, began her brief reign at the top on February 25, 2002. Six months later, Serena, with eight Grand Slam titles and $17.8 million, slid past big sis and stayed at No. 1 for 57 consecutive weeks.

“I definitely couldn’t have done it without my dad,’’ Venus said. “I don’t know what I’d be doing.”
Injuries and other interest (Venus – fashion design; Serena – acting) kept the celebrated Sisters Act from becoming the dominant duo of the past decade. Though they’ve played sparingly in recent years – mainly at the Grand Slam events – they’ve continued to be serious contenders for the game’s most coveted titles. Both now are focused on adding another U.S. Open title to their already impressive collections. No. 12 seed Venus, seeking her third U.S. Open title, advanced to the third round Wednesday, defeating Ioana Raluca Olaru 6-4, 6-2; No. 8 Serena, also seeking a third U.S. Open, struggled in the first set, defeating Maria Elena Camerin 7-5, 6-2. If the sisters stay on course, they would clash in the semifinals.

“If Serena is able to stay healthy, she’ll win the tournament,” Richard said. “If not, Venus will win. Right now, Serena is having some problems – with her thumb and another problem that showed up (Monday) night when she was playing.”

Richard prepared each daughter for their respective matches this week. He scheduled their practice sessions and oversaw their separate workouts, which usually last no more than 25 minutes.

“I don’t believe in a lot of practice,” Richard said. “I believe if your foundation and technique are good, you don’t need a lot of practice. And I don’t believe in scouting a player, either.”

Serena sometimes practices a bit longer but Richard says he rarely overrules his more volatile daughter when she’s on the court.

“When Serena practices during a tournament, it’s best not to get too close to her,” he said. “She has a way of separating herself from everything once she’s out there. Ask her a question and she won’t answer, but she acknowledges what you say by doing what you ask her to do. While Serena hardly says anything, Venus will be talking and laughing. It’s hard dealing with two different personalities.”

Noting another difference, Richard said: “If a player hits a ball out of Venus’ reach, she tries to get it anyway. She runs like the wind. If somebody hits a ball that Serena can’t reach, she’ll wait for the next point and nail it as hard as she can. She’s one of the greatest fighter’s I’ve ever seen. And mean! I always said that she was like a pit bull and a young Mike Tyson. Sometimes, I have to tell her she has to be calmer, that she has a lot going for her in life. If that doesn’t work, than you can always step in as a father. But when she’s off the court, you wouldn’t think you were dealing with the same person.”

Richard says pulling double duty is demanding and often stressful, but satisfying.
“It’s not about money anymore,” he said. It’s about how good a job I can do. I try to do the best job I can because I know Venus goes around bragging about the job I do. But you know, the one thing I love about my girls more than anything: they love playing the top players. Whoever is No. 1, 2 or 3, they love playing them. And it’s hard to beat my girls. They’ve got too many shots.”