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Venus arrives in Buffalo in style Williams mixes tennis, fashion

She walked into the store sporting a chic, short haircut, looking relaxed yet refined in her tracksuit ensemble.

Venus Williams had just arrived in Buffalo from Chicago for an autograph session to promote her women's clothing line at Steve & Barry's. After about 90 minutes she'd be off again, this time to Boston.

And while the logic behind the 15-city meet-and-greet tour is to increase awareness of her fashion venture eleVen, it's also a pure celebration of the impact that the eldest Williams sister has had on the game of tennis.

There were about 200 fans lined up in the store for Saturday's promotion and while almost everyone had purchased a piece of Venus apparel, they also brought along items like their favorite tennis bag in hopes of getting one of the queens of the WTA Tour to bless it with her signature.

"It's so exciting to see all the happy faces and everyone is so happy to come out here," Williams said. "The best part is seeing the kids. They're so cute and a lot of them bring in their tennis trophies or [school] reports they did on me. It's so cute. I always take a picture with them."

The collection of clothing for Steve & Barry's, which officially launched this week, includes 120 pieces making it the largest designed by a female athlete.

For Williams, the marriage of fashion and athletics is a no-brainer. Attracted to design, she has a certificate in interior decorating and is scheduled to graduate in December from the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale.

And while some might see the "girlie" pursuit of fashion as antithetical to the pursuit of athletic achievement, it's all part of the same continuum for Williams.

"I am an athlete on the court. I hit hard and I run fast and I jump, dive, whatever it takes," Williams said. "But off the court I do love style. I do love to look good. And I like to look good on the court, too. For me it's a good mix."

"In both [fashion and tennis] you have to work hard, you have to set goals, you have to have a plan and you have to be creative. You have to find a way. I think definitely all the things I've done in tennis have helped me be determined outside the court."

The focus right now is on her fashion line, but Williams still has big plans for her tennis game as she gears up for the start of the 2008 season with the Australian Open in January. Venus and younger sister Serena have announced that they will play doubles together in the Australian Open with the hopes of representing the United States at the 2008 Olympics.

The duo has won 10 doubles titles, including the 2000 Olympics, but injuries to both players kept them from pairing up regularly. Their last title was in Australia in 2003. In 2007, they played together only at Wimbledon, withdrawing in the second round because of an injury to Serena. Venus went on to win her fourth singles title at the Championships.

Of course, their mutual vocations cross paths not only on the tennis court but also in the fashion world. While Venus is busy designing for a store whose price point is in the $20 range, Serena's designs under the label Aneres are along the lines of couture. But sibling rivalry remains at bay.

"We just support each other and we inspire each other a little bit but it's good fun," Venus Williams said.

During the publicity tour, Williams said she keeps her balance by making sure she gets enough sleep and by getting to a gym every day. Because while fashion is a long-range passion, she still has some pretty lofty goals for the upcoming WTA season.

"I want to win everything," Williams said. "I'm going to work very hard this offseason. I'd love to take home two or three slams. If I took home four I could just be buried with a smile on my face. If anything my main goal is to be healthy for next year, then I'll do very well. I've been feeling a lot better in the last couple of weeks. I've started training and life is good."


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