Williams shows off a champion's heart

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

In spite of the reality show and the website and the gig designing clothes for Reebok, it really is about will for Serena Williams.

And will comes from where you are from.

Williams advanced to the third round of the Rogers Cup last night because on one leg, against a hungry opponent named Stephanie Cohen-Aloro who was hitting winners like a horse swatting off flies, she decided she was staying.

Fight, she said, "was about all I had."

It's easy to forget, considering the fame and the trappings but illustrative, here in the summer of guns and what we like to call "American-style" violence, where Serena is from.

Serena and Venus Williams were just little girls, playing tennis under the direction of their father in one of the most relentlessly lethal war zones in America. The Los Angeles neighborhoods of Compton and Watts have a murder rate five times the national average.

And in the United States, that's saying something.

"I wanted to live in the worst ghetto in the world so they could see what happened to you if you didn't get an education," said their father, Richard Williams.

But he had an alternate plan. He saw money, big money, in honing tennis champions.

So he took the youngest of five daughters -- Serena and Venus -- to the public courts in Watts and Compton.

The girls joked that learning to tune out the gunfire helped them focus their concentration, but you can never quite outrun places like Compton when you have family there.

Their oldest sister, Yetunde Price, was shot dead in Compton in 2003.

The best people can come from the worst places and when they do, they bring a tenacity and a will that can be applied to every avenue.

Williams admits that where she first played influences who she is on the tennis court.

"Not tonight, but I must say that sometimes it does. It definitely does. Sometimes I think about all the people myself and my sister have had an impact on. I play for myself, but in the back of my mind I feel that there's a lot of people who live vicariously through us who never had an opportunity. We were fortunate to have great parents who supported us with our careers."

Williams bested Cohen-Aloro 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in what initially figured to be less than an hour's work.

The Frenchwoman is a first-rounder, a 22-year-old minnow pumped into the first-round tank for the big names.

But a lingering injury to Williams' left knee, an offshoot of her ankle problems, hobbled her dramatically.

She looked dead after she dropped the first set and the first two games of the second set.

But she pounded in her first serve and sprinkled in laser-like ground strokes and doubled-faulted just four times compared to Cohen-Aloro's nine.

So now there is, naturally enough, a fear that Williams will pull the plug, especially with the U.S. Open a couple of weeks away.

"I'm going to talk to my therapist and see what's the best thing to do," she said.

But for one night, the locals were treated to a rare sight.

A champion, working with nothing, finding a way to win.

It might have been all she had, but the fight was still a joy to watch.


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