Seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Venus Williams is our guest respondent for this week's Mailbag. Currently ranked No. 3 in singles and No. 1 in doubles, Venus has taken a break from preparing for the U.S. Open and promoting her bestselling bookCome to Win in order to answer your questions.
Thanks for taking our questions, Venus. There is very little you have not accomplished in tennis, so wouldn't it be great to achieve a career mixed doubles Grand Slam? I think you can do it since the only mixed doubles titles you are missing are at your two best majors, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Is there any chance you might enter mixed doubles at the Open this year? Who would be your ideal partner? --Scott Humphrey, Pflugerville, Texas.
• That would be fun and I have thought about it. I am still not sure if I will add mixed at the U.S. Open this year, but have also not ruled it out. It's hard to pick one ideal partner, but either of the Bryans would be great of course. I played with Leander Paes in World TeamTennis this summer and his return and his hands are incredible. John Isner is another one who I think would make a great mixed doubles partner. His serve is huge and he covers the whole net in one step!
I read your new book and thought it was great. Why did you decide to write this type of book instead of, say, a memoir?--Steve, Atlanta, Ga.
• Thank you. I believe I have a lot more left to accomplish in my career and didn't think that now was the right time to write a memoir. I did want to write a book though and this idea had been in my head for awhile. The more I began to learn about successful people that played competitive sports in their youth, the more interested I became in the concept. I finally ran the idea by my management team and, before long, Harper Collins/Amistad told us they wanted to work with us on the project. It took a lot of hard work and it was like a tournament victory when Come to Win hit No. 5 on the New York Times' best-seller list.
I've always wondered why you and Serena blew the tennis world away, but none of your other siblings, to my knowledge, tried to master the game. Were you and Serena the athletically gifted ones in the family, or the ones who liked tennis in the beginning, or was it your parents' decision, or something else altogether?--Doyle Srader, Eugene, Ore.
• We played tennis as a family. Lyndrea played some. My sister Isha was actually a pretty good tennis player, but eventually had to stop because of back problems. Serena and I are close in age and I think it was fun for her to do what I was doing from practicing to eventually playing tournaments.
What has been the most rewarding moment, or moments, of your career?--Rick, Kalamazoo, Mich.
• It's hard to pick just one, but I think winning my first Wimbledon and the Olympic gold medal in singles would go at the top of the list. The first Wimbledon because as a kid our parents would tell us to pick a Grand Slam that we wanted to win and mine was always Wimbledon. Words could not describe the feeling of a childhood dream becoming reality. As for the Olympics, representing my country and winning gold fulfilled another lifetime dream. But to be clear, every Grand Slam victory has been an incredible experience.
Venus, I can remember in the summer of 2000 being in Myrtle Beach and seeing an article on the first page of the newspaper about your win at Wimbledon. Before that win, I didn't realize African-Americans even played the sport. From that win on I followed your career as you won 35 matches in a row and went on to win six more Grand Slams. I get teased by my friends for being such a fan of yours considering I'm a 25-year-old male and should be obsessed with Kobe or LeBron, but I respect great athletes and fierce competitors and you are both: the consummate professional. My mother and sister are great fans as well and also enjoy your clothing line EleVen. With Steve & Barry's closing the majority of their stores, are you going to try and find another department store to carry your merchandise? And if so, when will it hit stores? Thanks and good luck at the Open! Grand Slam No. 8: Let's get it!--Steven Littlejohn, Woodbridge, Va.
• Wow. You never really know how your career will impact someone and I appreciate your kind words. If you haven't yet, you should read up on Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson and Billie Jean King. What they gave to the sport and achieved for African-Americans and women is truly inspirational. As for EleVen, this is really somewhat breaking news, but I will be partnering with The Gilt Group over the next year to host exclusive quarterly sales of the EleVen collection on Gilt.com/EleVen. The first sale is coming later this month before the U.S. Open. You will be able to find out the details, which are coming soon, on my website, Twitter and Facebook. We are also in advanced discussions with a retail partner and as soon as next summer you will likely be able to find EleVen at traditional retail outlets.
Having come from an unconventional background to get into tennis, what changes, if any, would you make to how tennis is structured as a sport to allow for more people to enter into the sport that don't come from the "traditional" junior tennis/academy world? In other words, how does the next Venus break into tennis?--Anirban Mukherjee, Cary, N.C.
• The National Junior Tennis League, which was created by Arthur Ashe, has some very strong grassroots programs and the USTA also has great introductory programs like QuickStart. I visited one of the NJTL programs in Philadelphia, which is actually named after Arthur Ashe, when I was there recently and I was impressed by the kids and how well the program was organized. Over the years I have seen other strong programs in Washington D.C., Chicago, Miami and quite a few other cities. The sport needs more programs like this but the other challenge is finding ways to make tennis interesting for young people -- both "unconventional" and "traditional" -- especially with so many other sports and activities to choose from. I always thought it was unique that competitive tennis can give someone a chance to see other parts of the world, even at the junior level. Perhaps this is something unique to our sport that might be the spark for kids or their parents, especially kids that might not see another way out of their environment. I'm sure college scholarships are also an incentive for many parents. For kids that have some potential, it is also important for parents and instructors to keep it fun. Burnout is a real risk. Our parents always emphasized that Serena and I needed to have a balanced life -- we had friends, we went to a normal school, and we had outside interests and we didn't play too many tournaments. I am very confident that this approach is why I love the game as much now as ever before.
Can you remember back to when you entered your first tournament at 14? What was that like, and how much different is the game now than when you first started?--Phil, Los Angeles, Calif.
• I remember just wanting to play. I think I actually forgot my dress at the hotel and had to go back and get it. I just couldn't wait to compete. Since then, the game generally has gotten a lot faster. Partially due to the technology and I think also Serena and I play in a way that forced the other girls to learn to hit the ball harder. Fitness is more important not just for power but also for injury prevention. I see more female players traveling with physios and trainers than ever before, which has a direct relationship to the competition on the court.