Venus Williams: Artist expressing herself or `Weirdo chick trying to stand out?’

From my column on AOL Fanhouse

It’s called benefit of the doubt. That’s what I’m trying to giveVenus Williams with the dresses she keeps designing and wearing in tennis tournaments. Any artist uses a canvas to reveal and represent something.

“This was kind of a way,” Williams said Wednesday after she won her second-round match in the Australian Open, “to express who I am on the court.”

Yes, yes. Exactly. We should all be in favor of that, especially from Williams, who, at times, has kept herself closed off. Please, let us in, Venus.

For that theory to work, though, you have to determine the meaning of a dress that looks like a bright yellow bikini top attached to the yellow criss-cross straps of a lawn chair. Under that, serving as a skirt, some sort of multicolored piece of fabric.


“Oh, the outfit is inspired by Alice in Wonderland,” she said. “Yeah, don’t laugh. But it’s kind of about a surprise, because when Alice goes down the hole, the rabbit hole, she finds all these things that are so surprising.”


I’m not particularly a fashion guru, and sometimes even have trouble matching my sweatshirt to my belt, so I went to a true expert, someone who studies it regularly and is known for her funky, personalized style.

Someone who didn’t clean her room this morning, by the way. My 10-year old.

“I’m walking away,” she said, after I showed her a picture of Venus in the yellow dress.

What? But you talk about fashion being an expression of self. What does this say to you about Venus?

“Weirdo chick trying to stand out,” she said. “It’s not working.”

She’s not standing out?

“Oh, she’s standing out. But not in a good way.”

It is becoming an event now to see what Williams is going to wear, moreso than how she’s going to play. People can’t wait.

What is she suddenly trying to stand out for? I wonder how much of it is that she’s 30 now, late in her career and wanting to show that she’s not always the quiet one. She came onto the tour as a teenager as the queen of tennis. But over the years, her image has been overwhelmed, maybe even unfairly defined, by her sister Serena’s.

Maybe this is a last gasp to define herself? Or maybe it’s about the power and courage to make loud statements, to tell the world she knows she has arrived.

Or, it could be about a weirdo chick trying to stand out.

But for sure, these Aussie Open dresses are not good designs. They don’t even look good on her. You just don’t just create a crafts project, wear it and call it a success.

Over the years, we have learned a lot about Venus Williams. On Wednesday, she pulled a muscle involving her hip and spine on the final point of the first set. She screamed, then hobbled off for treatment, having lost the set.

Then, she came back.

And won. She beat Sandra Zahlavova, who has never done anything, 6-7, 6-0, 6-4.

In truth, the match showed some problems for Williams, who is coming back from a knee injury. She should never have lost a set to Zahlavova in the first place. And when Williams was gone for a few minutes getting treatment, that gave Zahlavova time to think about the enormity of what she was doing.

So, she fell apart.

But from Williams, it was all guts. Nothing new. That expression is not something she has been able to hide. She has been a leader behind the scenes on the women’s tour, too, in things such as pushing for equal pay and helping the tour find sponsors in a tough economy. Of course, she has shown that she’s a winner, too.

But it’s rare you get a glimpse of her personal side. She was engaged to golfer Hank Kuehne once. Whatever happened to that?

And at the U.S. Open last year, she talked, maybe for the first time, about some of the difficulties and feelings in being a black athlete. She was reminded of those feelings, of rage and discontent, she said, when Israeli player Shahar Peer was kept out of a tournament in Dubai.

So I’m in favor of Williams trying to express herself through her designs, as it gives a chance to learn more about her. But what is she actually trying to express?

At the Australian Open last year, she wore a short dress and skin-toned shorts underneath. When she served and her dress flew up, fans sitting behind her thought they were being mooned. 

And Williams became an Internet sensation.

At the French Open, she had some sort of can-can themed dress, with the same flashing or mooning thing going. She said the theme was the illusion of bareness. But she got a little overwhelmed by the reaction and considered retiring the whole illusion theme.

So, I asked her in Paris about what response she was actually trying to provoke.

“The first part is that I designed it for me … ” she said. “As far as how I might expect people to respond, it’s just different and unique. Because I feel like even in my game, style, attitude, personality, the way I approach my life is different and unique.
So I feel my fashion style is also the same, especially lately.”

And now she has shown up in Melbourne with a new theme. Her dress in the first round was so short that she kept uncomfortably tugging at the bottom of it after every point.

“That’s not a dress,” my young fashion expert said. “It’s way too short.”

Maybe it’s about baring her soul, or pride in body.

“That’s not a dress. It’s a shirt.”


Please read my new tennis blog at Email me at Follow me on Twitter@gregcouch

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

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