Naples event to have first for Williamses

Tennis has never seen anything like this.
Heck, no sport has ever seen anything like this.

Two sisters, 15 months apart in age, dominating virtually every tournament for two years?

Never happened before.

Two African-American women capturing a combined nine Grand Slam titles in four years?

Never happened before.

Locals will get a chance to view history in the making Saturday when current world No. 1 and No. 2 Serena and Venus Williams play in the JP Morgan Tennis Challenge at Naples Bath & Tennis Club.

Serena will face No. 12-ranked Monica Seles in a singles match at 1 p.m. Then Venus and Jana Novotna will play Serena and Seles in doubles.

The event— originally scheduled for Delray Beach but moved to Naples after the Nuveen Masters decided to cancel its tournament — will benefit the Oracene Williams Learning Foundation.

Oracene Price, Serena and Venus’ mother, founded the OWL Foundation, which funds programs that address student learning problems.

The Williamses decided to play in Saturday’s event to help their mother’s organization.

“My mom has always wanted to help children, even when she was younger,” Venus said in a teleconference Wednesday. “She (originally) wanted to be a social worker.

“All her children have grown up now, so she has the opportunity to help. She’s proud to live her dream, which is to help others.”

Saturday’s festivities will start with a singles match, which pits two players who have combined for 14 Grand Slam singles titles.

Monica Seles has won nine Grand Slam titles, the most recent, however, in 1996. Seles has been bothered by a left foot injury lately but is looking forward to playing in Naples, event director Michele Cope said.

Serena enters the match with a 17-0 record this year. She has set a goal of finishing 2003 undefeated, a feat that would be unprecedented.

“I think she has a great chance to do it,” Venus said. “Of course, it’s not easy. But there have been some unbelievable records in sports. Why not tennis?”

Then Seles and Venus will face Serena and Novotna in doubles. Novotna, currently retired from the sport, won 24 singles titles between 1986 and 1999.

It will mark the first time the Williamses will play each other in doubles.

“I’ve never played doubles with anyone except Serena,” Venus said. “Monica is really a wonderful, nice person. I’m looking forward to playing with her.”

Venus said her priority is that the audience sees a good match. But make no mistake, the No. 2 player in the world will come to play.

“My reputation is on the line,” Venus said when asked how she will approach the exhibition match. “I worked hard to get to this position but the highlight is Monica and Serena.”

The highlight is seeing Serena and Venus playing in Southwest Florida for the first time.

Few will get the chance to see it. Fewer than 300 tickets remained in the 3,860-seat Naples Bath & Tennis stadium as of Wednesday afternoon, Cope said.

Dave Rineberg, Serena and Venus’ hitting coach from 1992-99, said locals shouldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The duo, he said, will rule tennis for some time.

“For the next five years, they’re going to be dominating,” Rineberg said. “Everybody is going to have to raise the bar. They already raised the bar, everybody has to catch up.

“But I don’t see anybody coming up.”