She’s barely 15 and has competed in only one professional tennis tournament, yet Venus Williams appears to already have the poise of a seasoned, successful veteran of the game.
She certainly has the endorsement-swollen bank account of a superstar, despite her limited experience.
But barring injury or some other unforeseen disaster, Williams seems destined for stardom and has no self-doubts.
“She’ll become the No. 1 player in the world at 18,” Williams’ father, Richard, said Tuesday while the 6-foot-1-1/2, 155-pound youngster who grew up in nearby Compton conducted a tennis clinic in conjunction with the California Tennis Association for Underprivileged Youths.
Venus agrees with her dad.
“I feel it’s very true,” she said when asked about a No. 1 ranking in the next few years.
Asked if she has always been this confident, she smiled and said, “Yeah.”
Others are equally confident. Reebok announced a couple months ago it had signed Williams - then 14 - to a multimillion dollar, multiyear endorsement contract and that she will have a clothing line by next spring.
This despite the fact that she played in just one tournament in 1994 and will play in only three this year.
“That’s OK,” Williams said of her light schedule. “I would rather be at the beach than playing 14 tournaments a year. I’m only 15. That can wait. I’m going to be playing tennis for quite a long time. There’s no need to rush into it.”
Her family is seeing to that.
“I’m very concerned what happened to Jennifer (Capriati) could happen to Venus,” Richard Williams said. “I’m afraid we could fall in that same doggone trap. That explains one tournament at 14 and three at 15.”
Capriati turned pro at 14 and signed some lucrative endorsement deals. But she was out of tennis at 17, suffering from burnout. She still hasn’t returned fulltime.
“She wants to play more, (but) she goes along,” Richard Williams said of his daughter. “She has no other choice. She was taught to obey her parents.
“We don’t have any experience in this matter. We’re trying to do this the right way. She’s just a little kid in a grown-up game. At 18, she’ll be ready.”
Williams’ only professional tournament so far was the Bank of the West Classic in Oakland, Calif., last fall. After winning her first-round match, she faced Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, one of the world’s top players, in the second round.
The youngster dominated the veteran early on, winning the first set 6-2 and taking a 3-1 lead in the second set. But Sanchez Vicario turned things around, winning 11 straight games to complete the match.
“I had a good time, it was a lot of fun,” Williams said of her professional experience. “I never expected to be playing (Sanchez Vicario) in the second round.”
As for the loss, Williams said she wasn’t disappointed, adding, “I didn’t get tired, there were some technical things. I have a lot of years ahead of me.”