Originally created 02/24/02

Venus climbs to top on her own terms



Venus Williams is happy to say she did it her way.

She'll become No. 1 for the first time Monday, the first black player to hold that spot in the WTA computer rankings, and she's proud that tennis is not her only pursuit.

"I've enjoyed myself along the way," Williams said Saturday, "and I haven't limited myself just to playing tennis or made myself believe that was the only thing in life."

Williams' father, Richard, often has said that either Venus or sister Serena could have reached the top spot before now if that had been their top priority.

Instead, Venus has been busy taking college courses, enjoying life and scheduling her tennis around the Grand Slam tournaments.

"I just feel like I deserve it," she said.

"Being No. 1 and winning Grand Slams and winning titles, it's all about having a successful career. I've worked hard. I also deserve a few perks now and then."

The approach has worked.

Williams has 24 career titles, including four at majors - Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2000-01. She also won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics.

Lindsay Davenport finished last year as the WTA's top-ranked player, despite not winning a Grand Slam event in 2001. That prompted the WTA to change its ranking system to assign more points to Grand Slam events and a handful of other top tourneys.

Williams will become only the 10th woman to hold the top spot since the WTA rankings began in November 1975, replacing Jennifer Capriati in a system that includes the past 52 weeks.

Williams becomes the first black tennis player at No. 1 since Arthur Ashe reached the top of the men's rankings in 1975.

"It would be foolish to forget Althea Gibson, also. She was the first," Williams said, referring to the first black woman to win Wimbledon, in 1957-58. "And more than anything, I just feel proud to represent America in my sport."

Williams already has won three tournaments in 2002, at Gold Coast, Paris and Antwerp before losing in the semifinals at Dubai on Friday.

"I have had a long time on the road," she said. "I'm just looking forward to getting home and getting some rest with our family."

She'll take a three-week break, meaning she'll skip the tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., where she pulled out of a semifinal last year against Serena, citing tendinitis. The crowd booed the family and Richard Williams said some of the jeers were racially motivated.

Venus Williams returns to action next month at the Nasdaq 100 in Miami, where she is the defending champion.

"You don't aspire to be No. 2 or No. 3. Normally, you do your best to become the best," she said. "At this point, I am the best player in the world. That's exciting, and it's going to be mine at least a week."