American tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams have concluded a three-city charity tour with a stop in Washington. Although both have been out of professional competition since September, fans were able to watch the former world number one ranked players hit and serve during an exhibition match, won by Venus 6-4, 6-3, Thursday.
Venus, now age 25, and her 24-year-old younger sister Serena transformed women's tennis just a few years ago with booming serves and punishing groundstrokes. They have won a combined 12 Grand Slam titles, with Serena owning seven and Venus five. Three years ago, Venus became the first African American, male or female, to rise to the No. 1 ranking in tennis. All that success has placed the sisters among the most recognizable athletes in the world, which allows them to easily follow interests outside of tennis.
The "Williams Sister's Tour" set out to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House charity which provides housing for families of seriously ill children. With earlier stops in Seattle and Cleveland, the sisters visit to Washington also aimed to benefit a local tennis center. Venus and Serena Williams visited the center and took some time to hit tennis balls with some of their younger fans.
"I always dreamed of playing professionally against someone professional," said one of the fans. "And I got my chance."
Older sister Venus says this kind of fan interaction is their favorite. "Serena and I are very excited that we can do this," said Venus Williams. "This is much bigger than what we do for ourselves on the court. This is much more important to us."
Serena likes being able to spend time with disadvantaged children.
"I love the kids," said Serena Williams. "I have so much fun with them. That is my favorite time of the day."
Venus Williams says their tennis fame helps with their charitable tour.
"We have been trying our best to make a difference through our tennis," she said. "So we thought, what better way can we make a difference than to going and playing tennis, doing what we do best, and being able to give back."
The exhibition tour comes after a rocky 2005 season for both Venus and Serena on the Women's Tennis Association Tour. Both picked up another grand slam title, with Serena winning the Australian Open and Venus taking another Wimbledon crown. But both also experienced tough periods of erratic play and injuries.
Still, Serena says the sisters are looking forward to the 2006 season, which opens in just a few weeks. And she says they are both motivated to win. "We want to be our personal best," she said. "And our personal best usually is [ranked] one and two."
Serena will be working her way back into the top ten after finishing 2005 at number 11, her lowest ranking since 1998. Venus edged her sister at number 10, just enough to spark another season of an entertaining sibling rivalry on the court.