Wimbledon gossip wrap-up

The Fortnight is not all green grass and tennis whites, strawberries and cream. Here's the dirt.


Max Garrone
July 7, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)

It's not just the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world -- Wimbledon is always good for plenty of gossip. Here's a quick look at this year's off-the-court shenanigans as the tournament heads into its final weekend:

Last year it was the women's draw that got most of the attention for the revelation that Alexandra Stevenson's father was NBA legend Julius Erving. This year it was another parent who walked off with the headlines: Richard Williams, whose daughters, 20-year-old Venus and 18-year-old Serena, met in the semifinals Thursday.

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While Venus and Serena's mother, Oracene, stayed away from the tournament, feeding rumors of a possible separation with their father, Richard continued to talk, as he has all winter and spring, about the sisters walking away from tennis. Things got really weird when the sisters qualified to play each other in Thursday's semifinal. Richard announced that he wouldn't attend the match. "I won't be there," he said Tuesday. "I've seen enough already. I'll be somewhere having a Heineken. My first drink since '58. Because it's Venus and Serena. I've already won."

Williams said he would attend the funeral of a man he didn't know instead of the semifinal match, but it turned out the man's funeral was Wednesday, not Thursday. He seemed to waver Wednesday in comments to reporters. "I don't know, maybe I'll go watch 'em play," he said. "I don't really want to, but if they insist on it ... maybe."

Meanwhile, rumors circulated that the fix was in for Venus to win, since Serena had won the U.S. Open, where Venus lost in the semifinal to Martina Hingis.

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Thursday rolled around and Richard played ball boy during his daughters' workout but disappeared soon after for a walk during the match, despite Venus' having said she and Serena wanted him to stay. Venus beat Serena in straight sets, and Richard told reporters, "I didn't see one point at all. I wouldn't watch it. This was too emotional for me. I didn't sleep last night. I was crying when I heard Serena lost. Tears came to my eyes then. To sit there and watch it, I couldn't do that ... I'm glad it's over. It's been a major league stress on me."

And was there an arrangement for Serena to lose? "No, not that I'm aware of," Venus said. "I can't respond to no one," said their father. "I think people have a right to say whatever they wish to say."

Richard did say he'd attend Saturday when Venus meets Lindsay Davenport in an all-American final.

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The Williams family drama has dominated the Wimbledon headlines, but they haven't been the whole show. Some more highlights:

  • She was bounced in the second round and driven from the tabloid covers by the Williamses, but Anna Kournikova continued to cultivate attention from the press and her male fan base. A Shock Absorber sports bra campaign had her bust splashed across billboards on all roads leading to Wimbledon, with the tag line "Only the ball should bounce." A streaker took that as a cue Tuesday when he ran through Kournikova's doubles match with the same tag line scrawled on his chest. As the Mirror put it: "Kournikova was hardly expecting this when the umpire called, 'New balls, please.'"

  • Pete Sampras announced that he has tendinitis above his left ankle, but his coach, Paul Annacone, called this "strange" because an MRI didn't show a major problem. Rumors circulated that Sampras' medical complaint was actually a psychological tactic and, as evidenced by Jonas Bjorkman's limp handshake at the end of Monday's match, some players carried doubts onto the court. Sampras didn't appear to be hurting, but then he's famous for his lack of emotional exuberance and steely determination.

  • Jelena Dokic lost to Davenport in straight sets Thursday after she dumped her coach, Tony Roche, in favor of her Serbian father, Damir, who moved his family to Australia seven years ago to raise a tennis champion daughter. Damir has made quite a name for himself as a rabble-rouser on the women's circuit, and he wasn't about to make Wimbledon an exception. He broke a reporter's cellphone and called the British "fascists."

  • After Andre Agassi split up with Brooke Shields, it looked like the TV cameras might focus on the court during his matches for a change. But his current paramour is Steffi Graf, and whenever Agassi plays, the cameras fawn over the former champion in the stands. John McEnroe, commenting on the fact that Agassi no longer hits with Graf in practice, cracked, "That doesn't matter, because I think he likes a few of the other things she's shown him."

  • Belorussian qualifier Vladimir Voltchkov, who reached Friday's men's semifinal against Sampras, entered Wimbledon unseeded, unsponsored and without enough clothes to last through the second week of the tournament. He told reporters he doesn't have enough money to eat out, so his father cooks for him. Voltchkov says he used what little money he had to see "Gladiator." "It gives me great inspiration," he said. "Listen, I'm in a great arena."

  • Max Garrone

    Max Garrone is Salon's Vice President for Operations.

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