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A decade of dominance

WINNERS: Serena and Venus Williams (right)

AS YOU wander around the All England Club, the home of the Wimbledon championships, you can’t help but appreciate the growing number of black people that descend upon the sport’s greatest competition.

The prestigious fortnight is a world away from when this journalist was in his infancy and more distinctly the only Rasta in the SW19 village.

It’s a cause for celebration especially as this country loves to trumpet their evolved state of tolerance and acceptance.

However, and call me paranoid, I still get the sense that the smiles would turn upside down if the number of attractions at Wimbledon, which entice black people to attend, were to increase dramatically.

Could middle England cope with five or six world-class black players?

Not just week one players either, but the type of folk who would go all the way and win stuff, over and over again, a bit like the Williams sisters.

There was a sense of glee surrounding the demise of the sisters this year, it reminded me of the clamber that ensued in 2006 for the reportedly ‘disinterested sisters’ to call it a day.

Having already won five Wimbledon titles at that point in their career, they responded to any suggestions that they were washed up by going on to win another five titles between them.

It’s a mistake to write these two phenomenal athletes off, you do so at your peril especially when you consider Venus was nowhere near the peak of her powers and yet it took the eventual 2014 winner Petra Kvitova’s best tennis of the tournament to beat her.

But it’s not only the titles which the Williams sisters have won that should be celebrated; it’s the extent of their ability, through their endeavour, to change a landscape.

Walk up HenMurray Hill (I’m running with that as its official name forever) and I’ve seen a marked increase in the amount of black people that now feel like this event is one they can attend.

No longer do they have to sit at home marvelling at others enjoying a gloriously sunny day out at Wimbledon sipping on a Pimms, drinking champagne while picking at strawberries, they can now go down and sample the atmosphere for themselves.

Better still, there are people on the courts playing with similar stories, lives and hairstyles as theirs.

Talking about hairstyles, Venus kept it neat and simple this year but was still questioned about why she’d chosen to adopt a ‘west African’ look.

I wasn’t in that press conference as I was watching another game, but neither were any other black journalists who may have been able to enlighten the journalist who asked this question prior to them embarrassing themselves.

I did ask Venus however, what her views were on the increase in support that she and her sister experience each year from black people attending Wimbledon.

Coy in her response and eager not to offend, she said: “I think in general, in America we call them African American. I want to be politically correct.

“Over the years I've seen more different faces in the audience. I think that's wonderful for tennis to grow, not just for me but for all people to participate in the sport.

“Now, when I'm on the court, I'm not looking in the stands so I can't see who's there. Sometimes afterwards I take a look.”

And she intends to keep looking. The elder of the Williams sisters had a hungry look in her eye following her defeat to Kvitova. She could have won the match and knew it.

Her recent battle with illness has been well documented but having got to grips with it there is every chance we may see her add to the ten Wimbledon titles (five singles, five doubles) she already has.

Players like Donald Young, Sloane Stephens, Dustin Brown and Heather Watson can all look out into an SW19 crowd these days and see a healthy, representative spattering of black faces amongst the fans and that is in large part to the Williams’ decade of dominance.

I refer to it as a decade of dominance due to the fact that Serena has won the same amount of Wimbledon titles as her elder sister. You do the math.

This year’s Wimbledon was tough for them both but Venus’ lack of form and Serena’s health issues does not mean the end of the road for these unique siblings.

For those who can’t wait for the day the Williams sisters are no more, read below.

“People have been trying to retire me since I was like 25.  For some reason in tennis we always do that to our players. It's weird.

“We don't encourage them to stick around. It's like, get out of here,” said Venus.

She added: “So I'm not getting out of here. I think this year has been a great year for me. I've had some tough losses, but I've learned a lot from them.”

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