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Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Sisters with a plan

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- As the U.S. Open unfolds without the injured Williams sisters, here are some troubling thoughts for the other top players to ponder:

Williams sisters Top Ten
NEW YORK -- Venus and Serena Williams, both out of the U.S. Open because of injuries, gave the top 10 reasons for their absence on "The Late Show with David Letterman'' on Wednesday:

The "Late Show'' Top Ten "Real Reasons We're Not Playing in the U.S. Open:''

10. Venus: "Due to the bad economy, this year's winner only gets thirty bucks.''

9. Serena: "Last year, a dozen players were carried off by giant West Nile mosquitoes.''

8. Venus: "We can't give you any details, but we're very close to catching Saddam.''

7. Serena: "You can only hit a ball over the net so many times without getting bored silly.''

6. Venus: "I heard the Jets need a quarterback.''

5. Serena: "We're spending our time in the lab developing a third, even more powerful Williams sister.''

4. Venus: "What? The U.S. Open is this week?''

3. Serena: "Can't concentrate on game with Mars so close to Earth.''

2. Venus: "For once, we thought we'd give the other players a chance.''

1. Venus and Serena: "Surprise! We're running for governor of California.''

Venus Williams plans to play another 10 years, and wants little sis to do the same.

And Serena Williams vows to return to the tour "on a mission.''

The winners of nine of the past 13 Grand Slam titles talked Wednesday about their futures in the sport, their other interests and how they are perceived, spending about 20 minutes with a group of reporters at a Manhattan hotel.

Serena, 21, pulled out of the Open on Aug. 1 because of surgery on her left knee. Venus, 23, withdrew last week with a stomach muscle tear that hampered her since May and flared up during the Wimbledon final.

"I'm going to be a better player for sure when I come back,'' Serena said. "My knee is going to be better than it's been ever in my career, which is really exciting, and ... I'm going to be mentally relaxed. I'm going to be stronger, and I'm going to be angry.

"I'm just going to take a different attitude. I'm going to take the Mike Tyson approach,'' she added, leaning forward and laughing loudly, before adding -- just in case there were any doubts -- "No, I'm just kidding.''

They are in New York for a few days and some TV appearances, including Serena's on the MTV Video Music Awards on Thursday night.

On the ride from the airport into the city, Venus felt a pang of regret that she couldn't be on court.

"I was hoping they would move the Open back a few weeks so that way I could be ready, but nobody liked the idea,'' Venus said, smiling at her own joke. "It's definitely hard not to be in the competition.''

Neither is sure when she will play next; they mentioned the tour championships at Los Angeles in November as a possibility.

The U.S. Open, which began Monday, is the first major since the 1997 Australian Open without a Williams, yet much of the talk at the National Tennis Center has been about them.

As Jennifer Capriati put it: "Whoever's going to take this title, there's going to be an asterisk next to it, saying, 'Oh, but the Williams sisters weren't here.'''

The sisters met in the final at five of the last six Slams -- Serena won each -- and one or the other won every U.S. Open since 1999. When the topic is women's tennis, invariably the conversation turns to a single family.

And, both sisters noted, it's not always flattering.

"When we weren't winning the Slams, it's like: 'Well, when are they going to start winning?' OK -- we started winning. 'Oh, it's bad for tennis.' It's not really bad for tennis at all, because we're always on the covers of all kinds of newspapers, magazines, everything,'' said Serena, wearing high heels and a black-and-white dress for which Venus picked the fabric.

"Now that we're not here, it's 'bad.' It's not bad. There are still a lot of good players in the field, there's a lot of good personalities. ... There's a lot left, as well, without us,'' Serena added, then paused.

"Without us, it is a little dry. I would be dishonest if I said it wasn't. But at the same time, I'd be dishonest if I said it was no fun watching tennis. I mean, not everyone loves me.''

Serena's hoping the camera loves her. With help from the William Morris agency, she's accumulating acting roles, including a movie called "Beauty Shop'' and a part in the Showtime drama "Street Time'' that she'll film next week in Toronto.

"I love tennis, and it's always my first love, and I really, really miss it,'' Serena said. "But in a way, it is kind of a relief ... this actually gives me a chance to do some other stuff.'''

Off-court pursuits keep the sisters busy. Both have designed clothes, and Venus has an interior decorating company.

"We added a lot to tennis, whether it was fashion, whether it was serves or groundstrokes or speed or fight or whether it was controversy that we were never really part of,'' Venus said.

Someone pointed out she was speaking in the past tense, and Venus smiled.

"I'm not going anywhere. I like what I do. I'm not retiring before 33,'' she said. "I've thought about that already. I'm not giving up my day job.''

Their father (who's prone to exaggeration) has said he thinks his daughters will quit tennis in a few years.

Venus said Wednesday she wants to retire at the same time as Serena. Told of her sister's comments, Serena said: "I feel I have another 10 years in me, for sure. ... I like playing, I really enjoy being out there and making people mad.''

She recently relinquished the No. 1 ranking to Kim Clijsters, who hasn't won a major but plays about twice as often as the sisters. Serena said Clijsters deserves to be No. 1, adding, "It will be fun to try to work my way back there again.''

But she won't alter her relatively limited schedule.

"I'm not going to play every week. I'm just not going to do it, because I want to do different things,'' Serena said.

She giggled as she talked about her surgery, mentioning that 1998 Open champion Lindsay Davenport sent flowers. The knee bothered Serena for a while, and she felt something while practicing for a tournament last month. The real pain came later that day, when she bent down to pick up an earring. After consultations with six doctors ("I'm really thorough -- I don't like needles''), Serena had the operation.

"I can say that I don't want to come back too fast and ruin anything,'' she said, "but I don't want to come back too slow, because I really want to be back out there.''