It's high time we appreciate Venus Williams

It's about time Venus Williams gets some love at the U.S. Open.

Williams faces defending champion Kim Clijsters in the marquee semifinal matchup Friday, a year after their wacky encounter at Flushing Meadows.
Clijsters won that one 6-0, 0-6, 6-4, pushed over the finish line by fans -- a Belgian getting more support than an American at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The crowd's overwhelming allegiance to Clijsters had many of those who regularly cover the sport baffled, even in light of her feel-good comeback story and marriage to New Jersey native Brian Lynch. Would an American in Paris facing a Frenchman ever be rooted on vociferously, for instance? Not a chance in you-know-where. Would a Spaniard confronting a Russian in Madrid suddenly fall afoul of the spectators? No.

There's no reason to shun Williams. From a tennis perspective, she's one of the best athletes around and plays an attacking style, not one of these pushers who relies on errors to advance. The way she can track down a ball is breathtaking.

Venus never, ever loses her cool on court. While others moan incessantly about line calls and provide other theatrics, she goes with the rulings, rarely challenging. No, Williams doesn't show a lot of emotion. Neither does Roger Federer, apart from the occasional fist pump or low-key "Come on."

The same people who criticize Williams for not exhibiting emotion or any personality then moan about some of her "risque" dresses.

The Williams sisters do make excuses after losses, that's for sure. Serena edges her older sibling in that respect. But Federer -- who is pretty universally loved -- does, too. After his Wimbledon reverse against Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, he complained of a bad back. Rafael Nadal, in the wake of his defeat by Juan Martin del Potro at the Miami Masters in 2009, didn't give much credit to his Argentine rival: "I think I played really bad all the time. It was an amazing disaster."

You won't find Williams making excuses, though, when she's injured. Venus' bum knee at Wimbledon in 2009 helped Serena claim the title. Venus didn't contest a single warm-up this summer, the knee again causing problems. Unlike, oh, let's say, Jelena Jankovic, though, you'd never know she was hindered.

Williams is no dumb jock, either. Apart from those seven Grand Slam titles, she runs her own interior design company and possesses her own clothing line. All that from humble beginnings in Compton, Calif. On paper, it's a real Cinderella story.

Her dad, Richard Williams, can rub some the wrong way. Without his vision, however, the sisters don't reach their lofty heights. Oracene Price, whom Venus resembles in nature, is one of the nicest tennis moms out there.

Does race factor in? Black athletes in other sports are loved, and don't forget: The likes of James Blake, Mal Washington and Chanda Rubin were all strongly backed in tennis.

Williams, at 30, is near the end of her career. Her last non-grass Grand Slam title came nine years ago. Sounds like a sentimental favorite to me.

Williams has looked good through five matches, avoiding any inconsistency. If she downs Clijsters and either Caroline Wozniacki or Vera Zvonareva in the finale Saturday, let's hope she gets the deserved applause.