The Williams Sisters Changed Tennis for the Better; Give Them Credit

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Despite their barrier-breaking success, the Williams sisters have been held to scrutiny like few other athletes. Some deserved, surely, but Jane McManus asks for a pause to remember how much they've influenced tennis.

NEW YORK -- You might read a lot of criticism of Serena Williams. She's had a weird summer. And how about Venus? She needed three whole sets to get through the first round at the US Open on Monday.

But today, let's pause the unrelenting chatter on their sanity, health and love lives and talk about how these two women have changed American tennis for the better.

You know that thing called the Tiger Effect? In addition to upgrades in prize money and ratings, which happened, it was assumed that he would open a gateway to other people of color. Although there are invigorated programs to teach golf to children of all backgrounds, it appears the Tiger Effect didn't really come to pass.

But it did in tennis, and that's thanks to the Williams sisters.

So why aren't the Williams sisters afforded one-tenth of the reverence that Woods generates among fans and the sport's writers? They've upped the profile of women's tennis and driven ratings just as much as Woods has over the years.

And you only have to look at the field of this year's US Open to see the women who've come to the game as a direct result of their influence.

Taylor Townsend, who meets Serena Williams on Tuesday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, told me she wouldn't have had any idea growing up in Chicago that tennis was for her, until she saw Serena and Venus playing a match on television.

"The lesson of the Williams sisters: anything is possible," Townsend's mother, Sheila, told espnW. "It's not unattainable just because of your social or economic background or where you grew up. These things don't have to hold you back."

No. 21 Sloane Stephens and No. 27 Madison Keys are two other young Americans finding success on the women's tour, and there are numerous others.

The Williams sisters deserve credit for the way they have changed the game. When female athletes are covered, more is made of their personal foibles than their professional accomplishments. It can be such a double standard, between the commentary on the way they dress or their bodies or a personality that isn't perfectly charming.

It may happen with a male athlete. Occasionally.

The Williams sisters have gotten that their entire careers. At some moments deserved but at other times purely gratuitous. Maybe it's made them bristle with the media, and maybe that's made them less beloved to the people who cover them.

Maybe.

But the Williams sisters -- and lumping them together is at times unfair because they are such different people -- are alike in that they have been a beacon for women outside of the traditional tennis demographic.

It's been good for the game, and they deserve credit.

Other things that have been on my mind this week:

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

US Open fan fashion runs the gamut from geared up to raised up.

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I've been at the US Open, and it's fun to watch the crowd. You have the people who wear tennis gear, the most technologically advanced wicking fabrics. Just give them a racket and they're ready to sub in. Then you have the ladies in sky-high heels. I know it's a see-and-be-seen thing, but there are steps to negotiate, wooden boardwalks to wobble over. There has to be a middle ground between orthopedic loafers and a day of teetering.

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How will you feel if you see Denver wide receiver Wes Welker take a hit to the head this season? Does your conscience, as a football fan, bother you?

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I heard a story about the damage the Napa earthquake did in terms of all the lost wine. It was hard to get real worked up over that, especially since I paid attention to the aftermath of earthquakes in Chile and Pakistan.

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Reading about the marijuana-related arrests of Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, I was torn between thinking about the rationale behind our nation's drug laws and NFL policy and making a joke about the Steelers' rushing game being up in smoke. I'm so sorry.

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USC CB Joshua Shaw is out indefinitely after sustaining two high ankle sprains. The reason? He says he jumped off a balcony onto a concrete pool deck to keep his nephew from drowning. BUT, this just in:

So, stay tuned ...

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