on Wertheim has picked the absolutely perfect time to write a book about a year on the women's professional tennis tour.
He's done a fine job of it, too.
For most of the '80s and early '90s, women's tennis was dominated by one player someone like Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova or Steffi Graf for several years at a time. Compare that to now, when at least six competitors are considered top contenders to win any event they enter, and all have personalities to go with their skills.
The 2000 season is the backdrop to Wertheim's book Venus Envy, which provides an excellent behind-the-scenes look at the top players. There are Venus and Serena Williams, sisters who combine great athleticism and striking attractiveness in a package previously unseen on the tour. Add Martina Hingis, whose run of unchallenged success came to an end recently, but who hasn't lost her arrogance. Then there's Lindsay Davenport, trying to become a great player while avoiding fame. And Monica Seles, a now-charming woman still trying to overcome a bizarre on-court stabbing. Plus Anna Kournikova, whose exotic looks have only partially compensated for her total lack of tournament victories. And don't forget Jennifer Capriati, who returned from burnout and problems with the law to win the first two Grand Slam titles of 2001. Kournikova summed up the situation when she said to a reporter, "Please we are not tennis players. We are stars."Wertheim, a writer for Sports Illustrated, wisely sticks to those stars in the book, but he does take some side trips. Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena, is constantly in a spotlight of his own making due to his bizarre and ridiculous statements which the media eagerly gulps down. Wertheim also deals with player-coach relationships, lesser lights on the tour and the difficulties of running a minor tournament. Women's sports is going through something of a revolution. The barriers to participation have fallen, and the skill levels keep going up. Tennis has captured the wave, making the men's competition something of a warm-up act in the process. With Venus Envy, Wertheim presents a clear, compelling snapshot of what the sport is like right now. Budd Bailey is an editor in the sports department of The Buffalo News and covers hockey for The Sporting News.