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June 25, 2006

Venus Williams


THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everybody. I'd like to present Venus Williams, three-time Wimbledon champion, defending champion, here to answer any questions that you want to ask. Who would like to start?

Q. Venus, when you first returned to Wimbledon, walked back into this place for the first time, what are the emotions and memories that come back to you?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I've had so many, so many. Obviously, last year was definitely a lot of emotions, a lot of great times.
Kind of many wonderful times rolled into one. I always enjoy being here.

Q. Would you say you're more relaxed than ever before? Last year you proved everything you had left to prove, for sure.
VENUS WILLIAMS: I'm not in the proving business, but I am in the business of playing very good tennis, particularly at Wimbledon (laughter).
Am I more relaxed this year? It seems like it. But once that first round comes around, obviously that will be the true test of really how I feel. So far I feel very good.

Q. What is your minimum requirement this year at Wimbledon to be satisfied?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Oh, I always love to bring home the title. When I come to a tournament, especially Wimbledon, I feel like I'm definitely one of the main contenders to do that. Really it's round by round, consistent tennis throughout, and playing the best, which I meant to do last year and I'd love to repeat this year.

Q. How much have you been on the grass?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I've been here since Wednesday. I've been on the grass as much as possible. But this year didn't seem like as much of an adjustment. Maybe it's the courts. Maybe it's me. I'd like to think it's me, but I won't take any credit (smiling).

Q. Yesterday Andre Agassi announced this is his last year. What are your thoughts and impressions of Andre both as a player and a person?
VENUS WILLIAMS: He's a great champion. He's great for the game. I admire that he's always done things his way despite what the establishment may have said how he should do it. Ran his own program. Other than that, he's also a great humanitarian. And he continues to give back. That's a great example for all of us to give back in each and every way that we can.

Q. What do you enjoy most when you watch him play?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I think everyone enjoys the return of serve.

Q. The 'R' word, that "retirement" thing. You've mentioned that lately. What does your retirement depend on and how far off in the future do you think that will be?
VENUS WILLIAMS: For the record, the 'R' word for me means "relationship" (smiling). I don't use the 'R' word.
I've never, ever mentioned retirement. There's nothing wrong with that 'R' word, but there's something wrong with the other 'R' word for me at the moment.

Q. Is the 'R' word you won't mention far off at the moment?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I'm definitely very, very single and I'm definitely trying to stay that way. It's so fun. Yeah, I don't use the 'R' word (smiling).

Q. If you wound back the clock to when you were starting your career, do you think there would have been a part of you that was surprised you're still playing at 26, even though 26 is young? It's still a really long time to spend on the tour.
VENUS WILLIAMS: Beautiful times. At this point, I should be at the height of my strength and experience, and know how. That's the positivity I'm taking out of it. Each and every match brings me closer to the level that I want to get to.

Q. You obviously haven't been playing a lot the last few months. How much of a concern is rustiness coming in here?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I'm not extremely concerned about rustiness at all. I've played a lot of matches. This is definitely a great surface for me. A lot of matches on the clay, as much as I could.
I feel okay actually. I feel okay.

Q. Larry Scott, head of the WTA, his plan here in the next couple of years is to be able to manage where the players play more than he's been able to do in the past. In other words, the tour would have a lot more impact on where the players play than just the players wanting to go at a particular site. He's going to probably demand the players turn up, if healthy, at the four slams and eight or nine other major tournaments. Does that run counter to your philosophy about wanting to play that much?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Well, the future of the tour is brighter every year. It's a known fact that when, especially the top players are all together, it creates a great product. That's really important for the sport.
Anywhere where a platform can be created where the best show up, I mean, it's a great formula. I'm all for it.

Q. What about the prize money here? What are your thoughts on the discrepancy between the prize money for men and women?
VENUS WILLIAMS: It's very well-known how the women players feel about that. To be honest, how a lot of the world feels about that. For us, it's not about earning more money or becoming any more, you know, well-off; it's really about an equality issue, about being created as equals, as human beings, despite sex. At this point it's become really something that we represent women around the world. We're the premiere sport for women. We would like to empower women around the world by showing that we are willing to fight for equality.
In that case, this has been our most productive year as far as really getting the message out there, really being proactive. The women's players have been very excited because that's what we asked Larry to do for a number of years now. This is really becoming I guess the pinnacle of success on this matter. We're really willing to keep working hard toward the goal.

Q. What will effect change here?
VENUS WILLIAMS: What will effect change?

Q. Here.
VENUS WILLIAMS: Here? I believe it's just consistency, consistency, because we're on the side of what's right most certainly.

Q. Will that fight for equality ever lead you to consider not playing here?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Those aren't my words. Those are yours. I don't even want to discuss it.

Q. You were asked about Fed Cup at the French Open, you just needed to think about that a bit more. This is a very important match. Some people think it's actually the final, even though it's the semifinals. What are your feelings right now about playing Fed Cup against Belgium?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I really wish it was in the States, definitely.

Q. Will you play?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I don't think I'll be playing, no. I can't play that much tennis and stay healthy. It's a proven fact. So I don't think I'll be playing, no.

Q. How disappointed are you that Serena can't be here?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Well, I'd love for her to be here. It's just so much more fun, so much more jolly, so many more good times. We're a team.
But as they say, you can't have everything. I've had her here so many years, she's had me. You know, I think looking towards the summer, she'll be coming back, playing obviously good tennis. It will be nice.

Q. She's getting close to being ready to play, you think?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I think so, yes.

Q. One of the points that Wimbledon has made on the prize money is that men play five sets, women play three. What is your reaction to that?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Well, my reaction to that is that's really not the platform that the women stand on. We don't really want to get into, you know, a discussion on number of sets played and things like that. What we feel is that we're equal as human beings, so we would like to be treated equally.

Q. Are you surprised it keeps raising up again, this debate about equal money? It seems it was a battle that had been won a few years ago. Here we are going over similar arguments.
VENUS WILLIAMS: I don't know where that few years ago battle was being won. Basically it's a topic that we want to be in the forefront at this point. It's a topic that we need people to recognize, to acknowledge as something very significant, something that in this modern age, especially at a tournament like this, that should really not be in existence.
At this juncture, we're just doing everything we can to raise awareness. All the players are standing together. A lot of people really, really understand what we're talking about.

Q. What is it about Wimbledon particularly that you seem to feel that, regardless of your preparation, you always feel like as long as you're here, you're here to contend. What is it about this tournament that you can just switch it on?
VENUS WILLIAMS: No, I really don't know. It seems like my game goes to another level here. I don't mind, I really don't, I love it.
I think a lot of times, by the time this tournament comes around, I've gotten a few kinks out of my game. I've had half a year to play, or in this case at least some tournaments in the clay court season. I always come into the tournament very positive. That's really crucial.

Q. You often don't play a lead-up grass court tournament before Wimbledon. What is your philosophy about that? A lot of players feel like they need to get the feel of the grass before coming here?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I like to go home after the French, recharge the battery. Also the courts are so different at the tournaments. A lot of times it will rain, as we know. I prefer not to have to play two matches in one day or those kinds of things leading up. That is most certainly a possibility in England.
I just prepare on hard courts and come over earlier. It's worked out for me pretty well.

Q. To what extent does your playing future and how long you'll play tie to your sister?
VENUS WILLIAMS: We haven't talked about it, but it's probably really tied. I haven't talked about it with her, no. I can't truthfully answer that without having her opinion first.

Q. Do you see yourself, if she decides to hang it up, continuing without her?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Yeah, it would be really sad. I don't know. I think I'd have to be my own person obviously. I think I'd like it if we retired together. That would be cool. It's not really in the frame right now, yeah, definitely not.

Q. On another 'R' word, what about the fact you'll be playing the ball-boys, girls and umpires in Ralph Lauren?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I think it's exciting. I love Ralph Lauren. American designer. I love Ralph Lauren. I think it will be nice.

Q. The other uniforms last year, what did you think? Did you think it was a bit dowdy before?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I was so busy playing. But most certainly they will stand out this year. Even I won't be too busy to notice them. They're beautiful, classic. What's the word I'm looking for? They kind of bring you back to older times. Very classic. Very classic. It's nice when fashion can be a part of the tennis.

End of FastScripts...

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