Williams Sisters: Serve With Love

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The US Open

Venus Ebone Starr and Serena Jameka Williams definitely turned heads and created a stir of unheralded magnitude when the sisters came on the pro tennis scene.

Venus turned professional in 1994 at age 14.  Since that time she has won six Grand Slam singles championships, four Wimbledon and two U.S. Opens. Venus’ most recent Grand Slam win was the 2007 Wimbledon. She was a runner- up in six Grand Slam finals; five were to her sister Serena. In 2002, she became the first African-American player to be ranked number one since the computer rankings began in 1975. In 2005, Tennis Magazine ranked her 25th on a top 40 list of greatest tennis players.

Serena turned professional in 1995 also at the age of 14. Since that time she has won eight Grand Slam singles final, three Australian Opens, one French Open, two Wimbledon and two U. S. Opens.  Serena’s most recent Grand Slam win was at the 2007 Australian Open. She became only the second unseeded player to win the Open Down Under when she annihilated the number one seeded player. She was runner- up in two Grand Slam finals; one was to her sister Venus.

She was ranked fourth in the world in 1999 in her third full season.  She was the ninth woman to win four straight Grand Slams (2003); the sixth time a women held all four Grand Slam Championships in a twelve month period. In 2005, Tennis Magazine ranked her 17th on a top 40 list of greatest tennis players.

Individually, the Williams sisters are a force to be reckoned with but together that equaled an era of dominance. This ascendancy began in 1999 when Venus and Serena won titles in two different cities.  This marked the first time in professional tennis that two sisters had won titles in the same week.  When they won the 1999 French Open Doubles they became the first sister team to win a Doubles Grand Slam in the twentieth century.  On September 12, 1999, one day after Serena became the first African- American to win the U. S. Open since Althea Gibson did in 1958, the sisters won the US Open Doubles Championship. During the 2000 Summer Olympics, the Williams sisters won the gold medal for the U.S. in doubles.

Venus won another gold medal for the women’s singles, the same year she won at Wimbledon and the US Open. They won the 2001 Australian Open Doubles Championship.  In 2002, they won Wimbledon’s Doubles championship. At one time both sisters have been ranked number one since turning professional.

Sometimes fans forget that athletes are people too and that success in life or financial stability does not block or protect you from despair.  Marital problems between Mr. and Mrs. Williams and nagging injuries to both Venus and Serena paled in comparison to the tragedy that came to the Williams family on September 14, 2003. The oldest daughter Yetunde Hawanya Tara Price was killed when the SUV she was a passenger in passed a group of youth that shot at the vehicle. This business owner, registered nurse and mother of three also served as a personal assistant to Venus and Serena.  The rapper named “The Game,” also from Compton, California dedicated the song “Dreams” to Yetunde.  Many in the tennis world said this is what started the decline of Venus and Serena.

When you speak of the success of Venus and Serena, you must acknowledge Richard Williams. The father and coach of Venus and Serena was branded outspoken by the mainstream media possibly because he did not conform to their expectations.  He was a visionary.  If only we could see in our everyday lives more people of color preparing the next generation. 

It was the so-called "mainstream" media that stressed the fact that the three older sisters of Venus and Serena were not Richard Williams’ biological children. He instilled what family is to Venus and Serena.  It was Serena that spoke to the judge at the third and final trial pertaining to the murder of her sister Yetunde. She spoke about the impact this tragedy and lost has made on her family. 

Serena usually takes written reminders on the court to read to herself. During the 2007 Australian Open she only took one word—Yetunde.  When she won she dedicated the win to Yetunde.

Despite this tragedy, “The Williams Factor” has gushed over into other areas of our world culture. A Welsh Indie band named Super Furry Animals have a track on their 2003 album called Venus and Serena dedicated to the sisters. Snoop Dogg and Justin Timberlake make reference to the sisters in their single named “Signs.” 

Author David Foster Wallace mentions Venus twice in the opening chapter of his 1996 novel “Infinite Jest”. Do not count the Williams’ Sisters out of tennis just yet. They have a lot of tennis left in them. When they leave it will be on their terms. The Williams sisters have indelibly left their mark on tennis by their rich contributions and there’s no double fault in that.

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