INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — She is the protective one, the careful one, because after all Venus Williams is the older sister. Serena might toss out wisecracks, might wear a T-shirt to the press conference after one Wimbledon victory embellished by a double-entendre. Not Venus.
She’s as measured as some of her forehands into the corners. You get what Venus basically deigns to give you.
You can try all the routines, sweet talk, humor, genuine curiosity, but almost always you end up with a bland response that is less an answer than a refusal — if not a direct one.
This is what took place for the sisters in a 24-hour period at the BNP Paribas Open.
On Sunday, Serena, after winning the first three games of her third-round match against Garbine Muguruza, dropped the next seven and then retired with a “viral illness.”
On Monday, Venus, trailing in the second set of her third-rounder after taking the first, won the final four games and defeated Christina McHale, 6-2, 7-5.
Naturally Venus was asked not about that, as if there was much to say about that, but about Serena.
Naturally, she was evasive. When you’re 38 and have been through the drill so many times, well, nothing is going to change, the media who won’t quit or Venus who won’t surrender.
So Venus, someone wondered in her post-match interview, “Could you share if Serena is doing a little better? Is that something you can share with us?”
“Oh,” said Venus, “I'm not here to talk about that, definitely not.”
Sorry, we’ll stick to the germane stuff, serves and forehands, Forgive our inquisitiveness.
Tennis is only as interesting as the people who play it. Balls going back and forth over a net or, yikes, into the net, is not that captivating, although some of the shots by Rafael Nadal are remarkable, even to someone who doesn’t know a rally from a volley.
What makes the sport are the personalities of those who play it, the unpredictability of a Nick Kyrgios, the bewildering inconsistency of a Caroline Wozniacki, the mercurial actions of a Serena, who can be a charmer or be outrageous.
This is a strange and wonderful area in the California desert, the Palm Springs area, where Indian Wells is located and where homage is paid to stars of the past with the names of streets; Bob Hope Drive; Frank Sinatra Drive; Gene Autry Trail; Jack Benny Road; Bing Crosby Drive.
Competitors have voted the BNP at Indian Wells their favorite among the many tournaments around the world. There’s sunshine, though Venus wore a long-sleeve warm-up the entire match, and historic restaurants and bars. In other words, if you can’t have fun here, assuming you don’t get beat 6-0, 6-0, you can’t have fun.
Venus said she enjoys the place, at least now when fans seem to appreciate her longevity and, after the unfortunate incident of 2001 — where Serena was booed in a final after Venus dropped out of a semi against Serena — seem determined to make her particularly welcome.
“I’m definitely playing with the home crowd here,” said Venus after her second-round win over Petra Kvitova. She grew up maybe 100 miles away, but in Compton, a tough community that will never be confused with Indian Wells or Palm Springs, even if palm trees were transplanted on every block.
She was also asked if she's able to pick up the vibe and momentum of a tournament year after year. Venus was somewhat affirmative.
“I think it could be both,” she said. The lady just doesn’t like to commit, does she?
“I think it can be, yes, you have good experience. I think that's kind of starting to happen for me here. Also, you could see it as, Oh, my gosh, I have pressure.
“I don't really play that often, so when I do, I need to play well. You can't have too many misses. So I think it's extra motivation for me to play just a little bit better out there.”
In three matches at the BNP, she’s done that. Too bad she won’t talk about the condition of sister Serena. But that’s understood.