Often imitated never duplicated, Venus and Serena Williams are the tennis phenoms that no other player could ever be. The Williams Sisters grew up in Compton, but their parents, especially their father, Richard Williams made sure that they didn’t become a product of their environment.
Richard, who ran a private security firm, got hooked on the game by watching televised tournaments and told his wife that he would make tennis stars out of his daughters. His older daughters didn’t show much aptitude for the game, but Venus and Serena took to the game instantly.
Venus and Serena would play tatty rackets and dud balls against a wall for six hours a day on a run-down court as their father shouted instructions from a tennis manual. Both sisters began competing before they were five and it wasn’t long before they were getting invitations to national training camps and we’ve watched the rest play out in front of our own eyes.
They’re not the first African-American women to play tennis, but they were the boldest and often noted for their fashion choices ranging from cornrows and beads to colorful skimpy skirts, and they made tennis look cool in the hood–and even in Africa–inspiring other young black girls to try their hand at the game.
Venus, however did become the first African-American woman in the era of open tennis to be ranked the world’s No. 1 singles player. And in general both women have been highly ranked players for years.
In addition to building a tennis empire, the sisters have also dabbled in fashion, nail polish and acting and still show no signs of slowing down on the court.
In 2011, Venus was diagnosed with Sjorgen’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease, which has affected her tennis ability but she’s still playing despite her recent elimination in the 2013 Australian Open. Meanwhile, Serena Williams returned to the top of women’s tennis earlier this month, overcoming a series of potentially career-ending injuries since 2010 to become the oldest woman to hold the No. 1 ranking.
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