2010 U.S. Open Special: Venus Williams Fashioned for Success

Marianne Bevis@@MarianneBevisSenior Writer IAugust 25, 2010

A chic Venus Williams in limited edition Ralph Lauren/EleVen
A chic Venus Williams in limited edition Ralph Lauren/EleVen

Say the name Venus Williams, and you think tennis royalty: record-breaking results, new levels of power in the women’s game, and an athletic durability that is rare in the 21st century.

You probably nod sagely and wonder at the genes, the upbringing, and the determination that made her one of the finest players of her generation.

You will find words of admiration for a family that threw out the rulebook when it came to reaching the top—for Venus and sister Serena have dominated women’s tennis, in singles and doubles, for more than a decade.

What’s more, they continue to dominate at an age when many of their opponents have fallen by the wayside with injury, burnout, disillusionment or the need for a life away from the all-consuming sport that tennis has become.

And it is to this last factor, more than any other, that the success of the Williams formula—and the Venus formula in particular—can be attributed. For Venus is a woman who could arguably be a dubbed “Renaissance Woman.”

Her latest venture, announced ahead of her 12th U.S. Open campaign, will see her break new ground by opening up her expertise and experience to a worldwide, real-time, interactive audience.

Williams will take part in a one-hour Legends Clinic at New York’s Sportime Tennis Center on Randall’s Island on August 26th, and during the live-streaming, she will answer questions, demonstrate techniques, and offer tips via the website of sponsor Polo Ralph Lauren.

At a press event about the forthcoming clinic, she talked about how she has been able to retain her enthusiasm for tennis over a 15-year-plus professional career. It derives from an upbringing that stressed the importance of a life outside the tennis court: “We were brought up with a different mentality, a different philosophy in life, to have an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Williams’ father, Richard, would take Venus and Serena to the practice courts every day after school, but he was wary of allowing them to play at tournaments too soon and too often. Education stayed central to their lives and remains, now as much as ever, an important part of the Venus make-up.

At 19, and already with two semis and a finals finish at the U.S. Open to her name, she embarked on a degree in clothing design. It took her several years to graduate, but, then again, she did notch up seven Grand Slam singles titles along the way. Her only concession, it seems, was to restrict her doubles activities.

She now has her own fashion label, EleVen, and has resisted lucrative sponsorship deals for tennis dresses in favor of wearing her own designs.

In another first, she will wear a Ralph Lauren limited-edition dress, created in partnership with EleVen, for the Legends Clinic, and she is clearly excited at the tie-in.  

“Ralph Lauren is an iconic design label and it’s a privilege to work with them to produce such a sporty and chic look.”

But she also revealed that she has designed something a little special for the Open itself, and the media will be sharpening their pencils following the teaser she threw into the conversation. “There will be a daytime outfit and a night-time one. The design will try to reflect the character of New York: A little bit louder, a little more in your face, a little more sexy.”

It seems, contrary to expectation, that Williams’ has not been particularly bothered by the attention that her dresses have received this year. Indeed, she’s flattered that her work is being noticed and that people care enough to talk about it. “It’s what I’ve trained for, from the first sketch to the fabric. Making dresses that are different from the usual style, and a lot of fun to wear.”

And she has another reason to be excited about the success of EleVen, because her first commercial range of designs will be launched during the Open.

The entrepreneurial Williams does not stop there. She has her own interior design firm, V*Starr, and has embarked on a second degree in this field.

Not content simply with building a career as designer, she put a toe in the publishing water earlier this year with a motivational book, Come to Win. It features 46 business leaders, personalities, and public figures that include Bill Clinton, Denzel Washington, and Billie Jean King talking about how sports inspired their subsequent success.

And in one more diversification, she and her sister became part-owners of the Miami Dolphins just over a year ago.

Standing back to take a look at the Williams C.V., it’s hard to see how she fits in tennis at all, yet she is enjoying a remarkably successful year on the courts as well as off.

She played in all three Grand Slams and reached the quarters of two of them. And she recorded great results in all five of the other events she’s played.

At the start of the year, she won Dubai and Acapulco back-to-back—one on hard courts and one on clay. Then in early summer she reached the finals of Madrid and Miami—again mixing hard with clay—and the quarters in Rome.

It’s a testament to the hard work she puts in away from match play that, from so few tournaments, she has still secured the No. 3 seeding for the Open next week.

Lack of preparation for New York might worry a lesser player: After all, she hasn’t played a match since Wimbledon due to a knee injury. Not so with Williams. She’s not even minded to find a replacement doubles partner for sister Serena, with whom she holds the title at Flushing. “I’m used to playing with someone I trust as myself. Not sure I could play with someone else.”

There’s that discarded rulebook again. She has implicit faith in her technique, her experience, and her mental strength. “In terms of training, technique is vital—it’s the hard work on technique that you need when times get tough. And stay relaxed and you will play better.”

It’s been nine years since Williams last won the singles title in New York. Most of her success has come on Wimbledon’s grass—five wins from eight finals in the last 11 years.

Yet she has the game for Flushing’s hard courts including, incidentally, the fastest women’s serve ever recorded. Will she be tempted to change up her tactics to incorporate more serve-and-volley? Will she rely on her power play from the ground? Will she win her eighth singles Slam?

One thing’s for sure. The ever-evolving Williams—entrepreneur, designer, writer, athlete, and role model—will do it her way.

Tune in to see a chic Venus, clad in a Ralph Lauren line that will contribute to the Women’s Sport Foundation, at the interactive Legends Clinic, 2 p.m. EST, August 26th.