The arrival of the Williams sisters launched a new era of power tennis in the women’s game.
The daughters of Richard Williams and Oracene Prince are swift, powerful and athletic. They have won a combined 58 Grand Slam titles, including 13 as doubles partners, and 120 worldwide tournaments over the past two decades. Richard Williams, a former sharecropper from Louisiana, studied books and tapes to learn tennis and took over coaching his daughters in 1995. Their impact has been far-reaching, as it has brought minorities to a sport that they have revolutionized with their style of play. According to the USTA, one-third of all new players at the grass-roots level are either African-American or Hispanic.
Venus Ebony Star Williams was born in Lynwood, California, June 17, 1980, approximately 465 days before her younger sister, Serena. At ten, she moved with her family from Compton to West Palm Beach, Florida, to attend Rick Macci’s tennis academy. Venus was 63-0 on the USTA Junior Tour and ranked number one in the U-12 division when Richard Williams stopped sending her to national tournaments in order to take it slow and focus on school work. She made her professional debut on Halloween 1994 at the Bank of the West Classic in Oakland, losing in the second round. The following year, her father pulled Venus out of Rick Massi’s academy in order to become her coach and home school teacher. After making the 1997 U.S. Open singles final on her first attempt, Venus won the first title of her pro career at the IGA Tennis Classic in 1998. Her breakout year came two years later, when she took the singles titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, in addition to winning 35 straight matches that year. In February 2000, she rose to the number-one ranking in the world—for the first of three times in her career– becoming the first black American woman in the Open Era to earn that distinction. Venus Williams won seven Grand Slam singles titles and was runner-up in seven more. Six of those finals losses were to Serena. Venus won gold medals in both singles and doubles at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and claimed golds in doubles in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games. A powerful baseliner, Venus feels most comfortable on grass, as evidenced by her five Wimbledon singles titles. She is a skillful volleyer who is agile around the net. At 6’1” tall, Venus has a long reach that provides great court coverage. She is also powerful, having set the record for fastest serve [129 mph] at Wimbledon and both the French and U.S. Opens. One of the all-time greats of women’s tennis, Venus Williams is one of only three active players [Serena, Maria Sharapova] to have made the singles finals in all four Grand Slam events.
Serena Jameka Williams is the younger sister, having been born in Saginaw, Michigan, September 26, 1981. She moved to Compton, California, as a toddler and began playing on the public courts there at three. In 1990, Serena and Venus began working with Rick Macci at his tennis academy in West Palm Beach, Florida. She was 46-3 and the number-one-ranked U-10 player in Florida when she stopped playing in junior tournaments, as her father feared “tennis burnout” and wanted his daughter to focus on academics. In 1995, Richard Williams took over coaching both daughters, and Serena turned pro one month shy of her 14th birthday. She beat Steffi Graf [Daily Dose, October 2] for her first Tier I win at Indian Wells in 1999 and beat Martina Hingis at the U.S. Open later that year to notch the first of her 21 career Grand Slam singles titles. Serena has 36 career major titles—good for fifth on the all-time list–and more than 70 overall. She joins Rod Laver [Daily Dose, January 27] and Graf as the only players to have held all four majors simultaneously and is tied with Chris Evert [Daily Dose, December 21] for most U.S. Open titles, with six. Serena also has six Australian Open crowns, more than any female player in history. Miss Williams has been ranked World No. 1 six times and has held the top spot for over 200 weeks in her career. Serena has a powerful forehand and an aggressive, high-risk style of play. A baseline player with a strong defensive game, clay is her favorite surface. Serena’s consistent and powerful serve is the best in women’s tennis history. John McEnroe called her, “The greatest player, I think, that ever lived,” while Chris Evert said Serena is, “a phenomenon that once every hundred years comes around.”
Venus and Serena played their first professional match against each other in the second round of the 1998 Australian Open, which Venus won. Since then, they have faced off 27 times, with Serena winning 16 of those matches. Both woman have been ranked World No. 1 in their career and they are the only women in the Open Era to play each other in four consecutive Grand Slam finals. The Williams sisters have met in 14 Grand Slam matches, including eight finals, with Serena holding a 6-2 edge. Incredibly, the sisters have claimed nine Wimbledon singles titles between them. Both players have won four Olympic gold medals, one each in singles and three in doubles—all won together. As a duo, they have also completed the career “Golden Slam” of winning all four Grand Slam tournaments and the Olympic gold medal, in doubles, twice. As good as the Williams sisters are individually, they may be even better as a pair. They have won 13 Grand Slam doubles titles, three Olympic gold medals and have never lost a Grand Slam final as partners. Together, the Williams sisters have held all four Grand Slam doubles titles simultaneously, which they did in 2009-10. When Venus and Serena met in the 2001 U.S. Open final, they drew a larger TV audience than the Notre Dame-Nebraska college football game that was broadcast at the same time. The four highest-rated U.S. Open finals of the last decade all involved the Williams sisters. Venus and Serena Williams are limited partners of the Miami Dolphins, the first female African-American owners in NFL history.
On this date in 2009, Serena beat Venus 7-6, 6-2 in the Wimbledon Ladies’ singles final to win her 17th Grand Slam title.