US Olympic tennis team put on a 'good show'

RED, WHITE AND BLUE: Venus Williams shows off her USA-themed braids.
RED, WHITE AND BLUE: Venus Williams shows off her USA-themed braids.

Venus Williams glistened red, white and blue. Her sister, Serena, brandished her black, shiny handbag, turned on the charm and beamed her million-dollar smile.

And Andy Roddick was, well, Andy Roddick. Cap pulled down low, occasionally looking like it required all his willpower to answer a question and not grab the reporter by the hair and yank his head through the strings of his racquet.

Welcome to Team USA's Olympic tennis briefing, which whipped through the media centre like an ocean storm on a quiet Tuesday.

The opening ceremony on Saturday (NZT) can't arrive fast enough, but this provided a memorable sideshow to a full house as the clock ticks down, slowly.

The superstars squeezed in beside the lesser-known names on 10 chairs at a long top table; Williams and Roddick with the likes of Ryan Harrison and Christina McHale.

It could have been an awkward case of musical chairs if the Bryan brothers, doubles specialists Bob and Mike, hadn't been denied entry to the main press centre because they didn't get their accreditation validated in the rush through the airport's arrivals hall.

As it was, the awkwardness was provided by the media manager introducing the team one by one, and trumpeting Venus Williams as the most decorated Olympic tennis player.

"Hey, you missed out Lisa Raymond," Venus trilled, as the forgotten Raymond looked a tad embarrassed. No prizes for guessing where 90 per cent of the questions were directed.

Venus went to much effort to show her true colours. She'd braided her hair red, white and blue, and applied blue eye shadow and loud, red lipstick.

When she smiled, hey presto, you could almost hear the strains of Star-Spangled Banner. "I'm here representing the US head to toe, basically. Hair right down to the fingernails."

And she won't just be representing. The Williams sisters will be at short odds to win gold in the women's doubles, at the same venue just a few weeks after their Wimbledon triumph.

Serena's a dominant favourite in the women's singles which starts on Monday. And if the Williams sisters have their way, three gold medals could be headed to the family home, depending on which mixed doubles combination the US team decide on.

"When we first heard about mixed it was both of our dreams to play for all three [golds]. We knew we had to be at the ultimate fitness levels to do so. But it's up to what our team captains want," Venus said.

Serena was asked about the prospect of adding Olympic singles and doubles gold medals to all four grand slam titles, an unprecedented legacy.

"I didn't even know that. No pressure. Just to be mentioned among the greatest of the great [Olympic] athletes, it's an honour. For me, every tournament I've won, I probably enjoy my gold medal the most."

But whether some hopeful Kiwi athletes get the chance to steal an autograph and photo with the Williams sisters, or bump into them in the dining hall of the athletes' village, is another matter.

The team are staying at a hotel near Wimbledon. We discovered this when Roddick was asked where they were staying, if it wasn't in the village. "Like the actual address?" he shot back, incredulously.

Venus said they might get to the village to rub shoulders with the other athletes. There were a few beds allocated to the tennis team in the village for use, "when they see fit," said the media manager, warming to his task.

He reminded everyone this was the last chance to quiz the stars before their tournament. Then it was all over as Olympic officials formed a human barrier and they trooped out to jostling and flashbulbs.

For a mundane press conference, it was a jolly good show. And the Games haven't even begun.

Fairfax Media