When last we left the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, they had bolted from their gang-infested hometown of Compton, Calif., and were bouncing between Florida tennis academies.
Their ultimate destination, however, has remained constant. And at age 13, the first of tennis' next teen wonders, Venus, has been pronounced ready for the pro tour by her coach, Rick Macci, and her father, Richard.
Richard, a pretty decent tennis player himself, made a deal recently with Venus: If she gets straight A's, he will let her play in the $400,000 Virginia Slims of Los Angeles (Aug.
8-14), which is sort of the Williams' hometown tournament.
"That's not that hard," Venus said of getting a perfect report card. "I think I can do it."
To be sure, it will be a highly anticipated debut. Since the Williams' family left Compton a few years ago, many have questioned Richard's decision to keep Venus and Serena off Florida's junior circuit. The perception was that the Williamses didn't want anyone to know how their development was progressing.
Well, about 7,000 people got a good look Sunday when they played an exhibition doubles match against a pair of former pros before the Virginia Slims of Florida final at the Delray Beach Tennis Center. Venus and Serena won the pro-set match and looked impressive.
Venus, who is nearly 6 feet, cracked a serve at 104 mph (that's about how fast Steffi Graf hits them) and Serena ripped about as many winners as her older sister.
"She's ready," Macci said of Venus. "I don't know if she's ready for playing day-in and day-out (on the pro tour), but she's ready to compete against professional players."
Playing full time as a pro, Venus said, is still a few years off. Same goes for Serena, 12.
"I would like to (turn pro). I think it would be fun," said Venus, a voracious reader and fan of author J.R.R. Tolkien. "But I can wait."
Sure, but can we?
Hot Rubin: Perhaps overshadowed by the rise of fellow American Lindsay Davenport, Chanda Rubin has made sizable leaps this season without much fanfare. The 18-year-old from Lafayette, La., checked in at No. 26 in the rankings this week after starting the year at No. 69.
In four tournaments in 1994, she's made one final (Chicago), two semifinals (Hobart and Delray Beach) and one Sweet 16 (Australian Open). Her match record is 14-4; only Graf has more victories (22). Davenport, who plays doubles with Rubin, is 13-3 and ranked 13th.
Rubin, who had a 3.7 GPA in high school, had a unique approach to the play-collegiate-tennis-or-turn-pro dilemma that every teenage pro prospect faces: She wanted to do both. Her parents, fearful she would stretch herself too thin, made her choose.
With $84,011 in prize money this season, it seems she made the right decision.
For the fans: The ATP Tour is experimenting with miniature theme parks at tournaments similar to the Tampa Bay Lightning's Fan Land at the ThunderDome. One of the prototype exhibits, called FanFest, will be set up at the Lipton Championships, beginning Friday.
The FanFest at Lipton will have games such as "Short Tennis" (miniature court and foam balls), Sega's video tennis game, "Skill Volley" (hit volleys from a ball machine at four targets) as well as a booth to get your picture taken with a life-size cutout of a top player.
Oops, sorry Amy: Amy Frazier withdrew from the Slims of Florida last week. Thing was, she never entered it. The WTA TOUR Player's Association inadvertently put her name in the draw.
Around the tour: Graf has switched from Dunlop to Wilson rackets. J.J. Jackson, one of the nation's most coveted pro prospects, moved to Tampa recently and trains at the Palmer Tennis Center near USF. Natalia Medvedeva, caught up in the Olympic buzz over Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, went ice skating recently and injured her arm in a fall. Reigning Slims of Florida doubles titlist Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Jana Novotna headline the Light n' Lively Doubles, March 24-27 at Saddlebrook Resort. Call (813) 535-4511 for tickets. Gabriela Sabatini's streak of tournaments without a title is 30.