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FASHION Service with a style

By Samantha Critchell

Associated Press

NEW YORK --

All eyes are on the Williams sisters -- and that won't change whether their WTA Tour rankings go up or down.

Venus and Serena Williams are bona fide fashion icons, and they don't shy away from that style-conscious image.

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"Once you're known for something, it's important to do. So for us, keeping up with our look is important," Serena said.

"We also like to look good for ourselves. No one wants to walk out on the court and say, 'I sure feel badly about the way I look,"' adds Venus, who acknowledges that everything from the wristbands and visor she wears during a match revolves around her outfit.

She laments that an injury forced her to pull out of last year's U.S. Open because she had the perfect thing to wear: "I had matching rectangle earrings and checkered wristbands in black and white with hot pink. I loved the whole outfit."

Couldn't she wear it this year?

"The season has passed," she said in a sarcastic tone. "Maybe I'll pull it out in a few years and call it vintage."

The Williamses -- and their bold, sexy outfits -- have double-handedly reinvigorated the world's interest in tennis, but their attire also has made them a target of criticism with sports fans who say the duo spend too much time on their budding fashion careers instead of practicing on the court.

The sisters, whose affection for each other comes across clearly and naturally during an interview at a Manhattan hotel, say there is room for both of their passions in their lives.

Venus, 24, said winning two gold medals in 2000 at the Olympics in Sydney was a highlight. (She won the singles title, and she and Serena were the winning doubles team.)

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"I've named it as my top achievement. I didn't realize what was going on at the time but I'm glad I didn't realize how important it was -- I might have been nervous if I had," she said.

When it comes to her design aspirations, Venus, a student at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.), said she's still in the beginning stages but she hopes she'll again land at the top: "I would love to have a collection at Fashion Week."

Meanwhile, Serena, 22, already has her own fashion label, Aneres. (It's Serena spelled backward.) Venus' favorite item of the collection is a short leather jacket. "It's a fun and vintage-y piece," she said.

And, of Serena's on-court wardrobe, Venus most admires the black and magenta mesh tie-dye dress her sister wore with a black sports bra and running shorts.

"Yeah, that was really cute," Serena said. She then bounces back the compliment: "Venus has better clothes, so I steal her stuff."

"And I have nothing to wear!" Venus said.

Serena cites trendsetters Roberto Cavalli and Giorgio Armani along with Donna Karan as designers who inspire her, while Venus said she prefers classic American looks from Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.

"I've always liked to dress up," Serena said.

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Venus adds, "When we were young, Serena always had to be the princess. I get ready very quickly -- a half an hour. But Serena, two hours later, she's still rushing around."

The two then crack up laughing.

In all pseudo-seriousness, both say they won't sacrifice their fashion and beauty routines because of time or place.

Looking good, they say, makes them feel confident.

"I think I've seen a lot of players look at me with a sideways eye when I go into the locker room with accessories and a huge makeup bag," Venus said.

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