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Williams, Venus

Venus Williams

1980—

Tennis player

When Venus Williams made her debut in professional women's tennis in 1994, New York Times contributor Robin Finn called her "the most unorthodox tennis prodigy her sport has ever seen." Three years later, the 17-year-old, six-foot-two-inch athlete was an international celebrity: photographs of Williams with the beads in her cornrowed hair clicking through the air, her face a study in determination as her racket smacked the ball to her opponent, were some of the most memorable of the 1997 tennis season. By 2007, when she claimed her fourth Wimbledon title, Williams was acclaimed as "the best athlete in the history of women's tennis" by Sports Illustrated. In the years between her promising debut and her astonishing Wimbledon comeback, Williams dominated her sport at the same time that she designed clothes, gobbled up endorsement deals, and even appeared in the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated. Williams is more than a great tennis player: she is a true tennis celebrity.

Unlikely Prodigy

Williams was born in the Watts area of Los Angeles, California, in June of 1980, the fourth of Richard and Oracene Williams's five daughters. Richard Williams was part-owner of a security business, and Oracene was a nurse. In the early 1980s the family moved from Watts to nearby Compton. All five Williams daughters played tennis as youngsters, but the two youngest, Venus and Serena, were outstanding players from an early age. Compton was infamous for its troubles with gang-related activity, and the girls practiced the game at a court in a park frequented by gang members. Williams, in fact, lost a sister, Yetunde Price, in 2003 following a dispute with local residents. Venus Williams began entering competitions, went unbeaten in 63 games, and at age ten had won the Southern California title for girls in the under-12 division.

Both Sports Illustrated and Tennis magazine noticed Williams's talent, and ran stories on her in the summer of 1991 calling her "tennis's newest pixie" and "a prodigy." Her father contacted Rick Macci, a tennis coach in Florida, and asked him to come to Compton to meet his daughter and judge her potential. "I hear it all the time: ‘I've got the next Jennifer [Capriati],’" Macci told Tennis magazine's David Higdon. "Richard said he'd like to meet me but the only thing he could promise me was that I wouldn't get shot. All I could think of was: ‘Who is this guy?’" he recalled. Early one morning Richard drove the visiting Macci to the park. "There must have been 30 guys there already playing basketball and another 20 lying on the grass passed out," Macci recollected in Tennis magazine. He played a few games with Venus, and was unimpressed. Then, he remembered, she "asks to go to the bathroom and as she walks out the gate, she walks at least 10 yards on her hands. Then she went into these backward cartwheels for another 10 yards. I'm watching this and the first thing I thought was: ‘I've got a female Michael Jordan on my hands.’"

The Williams family moved to Florida when Venus enrolled in Macci's tennis academy there. She also withdrew from junior tennis that year at the age of 11. Instead of mixing practice with the competition circuit, Williams stayed put, was schooled at home, and practiced six hours a day, six times a week. She did this for four years—a decision, Macci said, that Williams and her family had made based on her unique temperament. "Putting her in a traditional development system would be like putting her in prison," the coach told Finn in the New York Times. When she was 13, companies were already contacting Williams and her family to offer endorsement contracts if she did turn pro.

Tennis-watchers wondered when Williams would succumb to the lure—some young women in tennis entered professional competition at the age of 14, dropping out of school and playing the tournament circuit, and earning large sums of money either by winning prize purses or signing lucrative product endorsement contracts. It was a potentially disastrous situation for many young players. Richard Williams appeared on the ABC news program Nightline in the summer of 1994 after former preteen tennis prodigy Jennifer Capriati was arrested and faced drug charges, and declared he'd never allow Venus to turn pro at such a young age. He was criticized, however for wearing a hat and vest bearing the logo of a sports-energy food product during the television interview.

Turned Pro at 14

Surprisingly, Williams turned pro just a few months later. Her debut came in October of 1994 at the Bank of the West Classic in Oakland, California. There, the 14-year-old beat the woman ranked number 59 in the world, Shaun Stafford, then went on to give Arantxa Sanchez Vicario—women tennis's Number 2 player—a good game before losing. "She's going to be great for women's tennis," Stafford told the New York Times's Finn. Some wondered, however, why Williams had suddenly entered the professional circuit, but new rules adopted by the Women's Tennis Council of the World Tennis Association at the time may have provided just cause. After the close of 1994, 14-year-olds were barred from turning pro, and young women under 18 who entered the competition level from 1995 onward were limited in the number of tournaments in which they could participate.

Though she had skated into the professional level exempt from these rules, Williams restricted her schedule anyway. She stayed in school and did not appear again on the pro circuit until an August 1995 event, the Acura Classic in Manhattan Beach, California; she lost in the first round. Some tennis analysts noted that because she lacked the junior-tournament experience, Williams had not learned to inject a competitive edge to her game. Her father has tried to rectify this, sometimes by rooting against her in public matches. Conversely, he told New York Times Magazine writer Pat Jordan, "Every time she loses, I pay her $50."

As the New York Times Magazine profile pointed out, however, the dedicated fathers of women's tennis are sometimes problematic: Steffi Graf's father was charged with tax evasion, and she herself was nearly arrested for complicity; an American teenage player, Mary Pierce, had to obtain a court restraining order against her father. Richard Williams was well aware of the dangers of the sport on young women, though, and controlled his daughter's career in order to avoid problems. He saw the lesson in Capriati, who turned pro at 14. "At 15, she lost her smile," he told Jordan in the New York Times Magazine. "At 16, there were problems. What happened? I want to make sure that doesn't happen to my kids," he added.

At a Glance …

Born Venus Ebone Starr Williams on June 17, 1980, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Richard (a security-business owner and daughters' coach) and Oracene (a nurse) Williams. Education: Studied fashion design at the Art Institute of Florida.

Career : Professional tennis player, 1994-; winner of 14 Grand Slam titles, including six singles titles, six women's doubles titles, and two mixed doubles titles.

Memberships: Women's Tennis Association.

Awards: 2000 Olympic Games, Gold Medals in women's singles and women's doubles.

Addresses: Office—c/o Women's Tennis Association, One Progress Plaza, Suite 1500, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

Venus's younger sister, Serena, also showed great promise as a player. Richard Williams predicted that some day the pair would have to play against one another for the women's world title, but he often received more press than either of them. "Richard Williams has been called a ‘liar’ and ‘genius’ and everything in between," wrote Higdon in Tennis magazine. The senior Williams asserted that his family did not receive any endorsement money from wearing the logo-emblazoned clothing of one sportswear maker at public appearances, but a spokesperson for the company said they had indeed paid him a consultant's fee. Yet Williams has also been lauded for shepherding his daughter's career down a non-traditional path that kept the focus on her education and allowed her to mature outside of the competitive pressures of the pro circuit. Newspaper reportage about Venus often remarks on her self-assuredness and impressive vocabulary. Her father and Macci, Finn wrote in the New York Times, "have produced a player who appears to possess wit and wisdom beyond her years—with a serve, volley, and vocabulary to match."

Adjusted to Competition

Again Williams stayed out of the limelight for much of 1996, and in the spring of 1997 made her debut at the French Open. A month later, as she turned seventeen, she traveled to England for Wimbledon, perhaps the sport's most famous tournament. Serena and Oracene Williams came with her to lend support, but her father stayed home. She received a great deal of attention, but had a poor showing and lost to Magdalena Grzybowska. "By the time it was over…Williams stood revealed as a huge talent with little idea of how to adjust to an opponent or adversity," wrote S. L. Price in Sports Illustrated. She remained imperturbable, though. "It's my first Wimbledon," she told reporters. "There will be many more."

Her father asserted that his daughter's "only weakness is she's overconfident," he said in the New York Times Magazine. Williams's U.S. Open performance in the late summer of 1997 went somewhat better: she advanced from 66th to 25th in the rankings in one day. "Williams's progress as a player was undeniable; almost overnight she had become a force every player but one fears," wrote Price in Sports Illustrated, referring to Martina Hingis, who would take home the title. Both young women were the same age, but Hingis had far more professional competition experience. Still, insiders predicted future greatness for Williams. Pam Shriver, a former U.S. Open titleholder, once played in a training match against Serena and Venus, and she told Higdon in Tennis magazine that Venus "didn't know tactically how to play points yet, but she had weapons and has this natural way of intimidating."

Unfortunately, Williams's U.S. Open showing was clouded by charges of racism. Her father, in a telephone interview, told journalists that some of the other players had directed racial epithets toward his daughter. Gracefully, the teenager tried to deflect attention from the potential furor at a press conference, but her father's comments caused some watchers of the sport to note this may limit her chances of obtaining endorsement contracts. Other African-American players have hinted that subtle discrimination does indeed occur in what has been called a "country-club" sport, and some of Williams's white competitors on the diva-rife circuit have accused her of not smiling, or of not being friendly enough. "Why don't you guys tell me what they want me to do?" she queried reporters at one press conference, according to Sports Illustrated. "They should come up to me and say, ‘Venus, I want you to smile so I can feel better.’"

While the hints of racism continued to plague Williams, she nevertheless proved to be a fearless opponent. Over the next few years, Williams improved her game, and lost weight and the hair beads—she'd been fined when they spilled on the court. In 2000 Williams won Wimbledon by defeating Number 2-ranked Lindsay Davenport; Williams became the first African-American female since Althea Gibson to win at Wimbledon. Venus and Serena also won the doubles' title, becoming the first set of sisters to do so. When the two faced off in the Wimbledon singles' semifinals, it had been over 100 years since a sibling showdown. In the same year, Williams also won two Olympic gold medals in singles and doubles with her sister, Serena, as her partner. She continued the success of her first Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Open in 2000.

Rose to the Top

After a stellar 2000 season, Williams needed to prove to the tennis world that she was going to continue to win championships. The first step on that road was to defend her Wimbledon title. To the amazement of most, she did, defeating Justine Henin in three sets. Next in line was to defend her U.S. Open title. She battled it out through the semi-finals, until she met her opponent for the final: her sister, Serena. Both sisters made history once again by being the first set of sisters to play against each other in U.S. Open history. Venus defeated Serena, winning her second back-to-back grand slam tournament game.

Williams would come out on top in December of 2001 when Reebok re-signed her to a $40 million contract that was believed to be the most lucrative and comprehensive endorsement deal ever created for a female athlete. Of Williams, Reebok said in Footwear News, "Venus Williams is arguably the most admired female athlete and among the most recognizable and exciting young women in the world." Williams has also won numerous honors and awards in 2001, including: being named Ms. Women of the Year (along with Serena), by Ms. magazine. She was also named Female Player of the Year by Tennis magazine. She expanded outside of tennis by designing a clothing line for clothing company Wilsons. She has inked deals with not only Reebok, but also Wrigley gum, makeup giant Avon, and Nortel Networks. Many have criticized Williams for not being focused on tennis, including tennis legend Martina Navritolova, who was quoted in Time as saying her outside interests shows "arrogance and lack of commitment to tennis." Even her father felt that Williams should choose between tennis or the distractions, telling the Florida Times Union, "If it was up to me, I told Venus two or three years ago that she should retire. I think she should."

Despite the distractions, Williams rose to the top of women's tennis. In March of 2002, Williams reached her ultimate goal, earning the top ranking from the Women's Tennis Association. In an interview with Jet she said, "I'm very excited about this achievement and look forward to building on it. I have worked hard for it. I hope I can keep it." Keeping that ranking was not so easy, however, and some of the most intense competition she faced was from her sister. In both 2002 and 2003, for example, the Williams sisters faced off in the finals at Wimbledon; both times, Serena emerged triumphant and seized the top ranking from her sister.

Struggled to Maintain Dominance

Though 2002 was the year in which Venus Williams dominated tennis, she has been in contention for many titles in every year since. Williams, who missed the 2003 U.S. Open because of an injured stomach muscle, won two tournaments in 2004; her furthest penetration into a Grand Slam event that year was the French Open, where she reached the quarterfinals.

In many ways, Williams seemed to have things other than tennis on her mind. In 2005, Williams and her sister Serena starred in a six-episode reality show on ABC Family. They also published a book, Serving from the Hip: 10 Rules for Living, Loving and Winning, with Houghton Mifflin. Serena Williams told Yanick Rice Lamb in Black Issues Book Review that the book "talks about a lot of stuff—every issue that preteens and teens might have to deal with. We consider ourselves role models, and we wanted to do something positive for kids." Venus Williams added, "It was something that we had to do to pass on our knowledge, what we've gone through."

In the summer of 2005, Williams, who had slipped to the No. 16 spot in world rankings, perhaps because of the distractions of the book and television show, was knocked out of the French Open in the third round by 52nd-ranked Bulgarian player Sesil Karatantcheva. However, Williams fought hard and came back to win a third Wimbledon championship later in the summer. Her opponent, No. 1-ranked Lindsay Davenport, told S. L. Price in Sports Illustrated, "She just took it away from me. She just was…incredible." Williams said of her win, "I was just thinking, I've got to stay tougher. I've got to stay tougher than whoever's across the net." Later in the season, Williams defeated her sister, Serena, in the fourth round at the U.S. Open in New York; it evened their record in head-to-head matches at seven victories apiece. To top off a wonderful year, Williams was even featured in the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated.

The year 2006 was a down year for Williams, who spent the first third of the year recovering from injuries before getting knocked out of every tournament she entered without reaching the finals. Again, Williams's critics claimed that distractions kept her from playing great tennis. She began 2007 ranked 39th in the world, and promptly withdrew from the Australian Open because of a wrist injury. After some lackluster play in early tournaments, Williams came into the annual Wimbledon Championships ranked 31st. Williams started off slowly in a rain-interrupted tournament, but built pace and confidence with every match. By the time she reached the final against Marion Bartoli on July 7, 2007, Williams was back at the top of her game. Delivering blistering serves—one was clocked at 124 miles per hour—Williams destroyed Bartoli 6-4, 6-1 to take the title.

With her 2007 Wimbledon victory Williams laid claim to her sixth Grand Slam singles title and her Olympic gold medal, not to mention six Grand Slam victories each in women's and mixed doubles. Williams's meteoric return to the top of the tennis world pointed to her uncanny ability to rise above the distractions of superstardom to play great tennis. "I always believe in my game," she told Sports Illustrated. "Losing never really crosses my mind." With that attitude, it seems likely that more victories lie ahead.

Sources

Books

Edmondson, Jacqueline, Venus and Serena Williams: A Biography, Greenwood Press, 2005.

Rineberg, Dave, Venus & Serena: My Seven Years as Hitting Coach for the Williams Sisters, F. Fell, 2001.

Wertheim, L. Jon, Venus Envy: Power Games, Teenage Vixens, and Million-Dollar Egos on the Women's Tennis Tour, Perennial, 2002.

Williams, Venus, and Serena Williams, Venus & Serena: Serving from the Hip, Ten Rules for Living, Loving, and Winning, Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

Periodicals

Black Issues Book Review, September-October 2005, p. 22.

Footwear News, January 1, 2001.

Jet, July 23, 2001, p. 51; March 11, 2002, p. 48.

Ms.. Magazine, December 2001, p. 40.

Newsweek, July 17, 2000.

New York Times, November 1, 1994, p. B10; November 2, 1994, p. B9; March 10, 1997, p. C2; September 7, 1997; September 9, 1997.

New York Times Magazine, March 16, 1997.

PR Newswire, December 21, 2001; March 14, 2002.

Sport, February 1995, p. 14.

Sports Illustrated, June 13, 1994, p. 10; November 14, 1994, pp. 30-32; July 7, 1997, p. 26; September 15, 1997, pp. 32; September 17, 2001 pp. 40-43; July 11, 2005, p. 52 (swimsuit issue); June 25, 2007; July 16, 2007, p. 60.

Star-Tribune, August 31, 2001, p. 01D.

Tennis, July 1997, pp. 46-55; February 2001, p. 28.

On-line

"Venus on Top of Her Game," Boston Herald.com,http://sports.bostonherald.com/tennis/view.bg?articleid=1012186 (July 19, 2007).

"Venus Williams," Sony Ericsson WTA Tour,www.sonyericssonwtatour.com/2/players/playerprofiles/Playerbio.asp?PlayerID=230220 (July 23, 2007).

"Venus Williams Wins 4th Wimbledon Title," Forbes.com,www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2007/07/07/ap3891585.html (July 23, 2007).

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Williams, Venus 1980–

Venus Williams 1980

Professional tennis player

A Female Michael Jordan

Remarkable Debut

The Williams Family In the Media

Won Both Wimbledon and U.S. OpenAgain

Sources

When Venus Williams made her debut in professional womens tennis in 1994, the New York Timess Robin Finn called her the most unorthodox tennis prodigy her sport has ever seen. Three years later, the seventeen-year-old, six-foot-two-inch athlete was an international celebrity: photographs of Williams with the beads in her cornrowed hair clicking through the air, her face a study in determination as her racket smacked the ball to her opponent, were some of the most memorable of the 1997 tennis season. Though she enjoyed success at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, her opponents were often younger and had been playing competitive tennis longer; moreover, the blunt remarks of Williamss outspoken father sometimes overshadowed her rising star.

Williams was born in the Watts area of Los Angeles in June of 1980, the fourth of Richard and Oracene Williamss five daughters. Richard Williams was partowner of a security business, and her mother is a nurse. A few years later the family moved from Watts to nearby Compton. All five Williams daughters played tennis as youngsters, but the two youngest, Venus and Serena, were outstanding players from an early age. Compton was a city somewhat infamous for its troubles with gang-related activity, and the girls practiced the game at a court in a park that gang members frequented. Venus Williams began entering competitions, went unbeaten in 63 games, and by the age of ten had won the Southern California girls title in the under-12 division.

A Female Michael Jordan

Both Sports Illustrated and Tennis magazine noticed Williamss talent, and ran stories on her in the summer of 1991 calling her tenniss newest pixie and a prodigy. Her father contacted Rick Macci, a tennis coach in Florida, and asked him to come to Compton to meet his daughter and judge her potential. I hear it all the time: Ive got the next Jennifer [Capriati], Macci told Tennis magazines David Higdon. Richard said hed like to meet me but the only thing he could promise me was that I wouldnt get shot. All I could think of was: Who is this guy? he recalled. Early one morning Richard drove the visiting Macci to the park. There must have been 30 guys there already playing basketball and another 20 lying on the grass passed out, Macci recollected in Tennis magazine. He played a few games with Venus, and was unimpressed. Then, he remembered, she asks to go to the bathroom and

At a Glance

Born Venus Ebone Starr Williams, June 17. 1980, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Richard (a security-business owner and daughters coach) and Oracene (a nurse) Williams. Education: Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, attending. Religion: Jehovahs Witness.

Career: Played junior tennis until 1991; became professional tennis player, October, 1994; won Wimbledon, 2000, 2001; won US Open, 2000, 2001; won Olympic gold medal in doubles, 2000; ranked number one by WTA, 2002.

Address: Tennis Association, 133 First St. NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

as she walks out the gate, she walks at least 10 yards on her hands. Then she went into these backward cartwheels for another 10 yards. Im watching this and the first thing I thought was: Ive got a female Michael Jordan on my hands.

The Williams family moved to Florida when Venus enrolled in Maccis tennis academy there. She also withdrew from junior tennis that year at the age of 11. Instead of mixing practice with the competition circuit, Williams stayed put, was schooled at home, and practiced six hours a day, six times a week. She did this for four yearsa decision, Macci said, that Williams and her family had made based on her unique temperament. Putting her in a traditional development system would be like putting her in prison, the coach told Finn in the New York Times. When she was thirteen, companies were already contacting Williams and her family to offer endorsement contracts if she did turn pro.

Remarkable Debut

Tennis-watchers wondered when Williams would succumb to the luresome young women in tennis entered professional competition at the age of fourteen, dropping out of school and playing the tournament circuit, and earning large sums of money either by winning prize purses or the signing lucrative product endorsement contracts. It was a potentially disastrous situation for many young players. Richard Williams appeared on the ABC news program Nightline in the summer of 1994 after former preteen tennis prodigy Jennifer Capriati was arrested and faced drug charges, and declared hed never allow Venus to turn pro at such a young age. He was criticized, however for wearing a hat and vest with both bearing the logo of a sportsenergy food product during the television interview.

Surprisingly Williams turned pro just a few months later. Her debut came in October of 1994 at the Bank of the West Classic in Oakland, California. There, the fourteen-year-old beat the woman ranked number 59 in the world, Shaun Stafford, then went on to give Arantxa Sanchez Vicariowomen tenniss Number 2 playera good game before losing. Shes going to be great for womens tennis, Stafford told the New York Timess Finn. Some wondered, however, why Williams had suddenly entered the professional circuit, but new rules adopted by the Womens Tennis Council of the World Tennis Association at the time may have provided just cause. After the close of 1994, fourteen-year-olds were barred from turning pro, and young women under 18 who entered the competition level from 1995 onward were limited in the number of tournaments in which they could participate.

Though she had skated into the professional level exempt from these rules, Williams restricted her schedule anyway. She stayed in school and did not appear again on the pro circuit until an August 1995 event, the Acura Classic in Manhattan Beach, California; she lost in the first round. Some tennis analysts noted that because she lacked the junior-tournament experience, Williams had not learned to inject a competitive edge to her game. Her father has tried to rectify this, sometimes by rooting against her in public matches. Conversely, he told New York Times Magazine writer Pat Jordan, Every time she loses, I pay her $50.

As the New York Times Magazine profile pointed out, however, the dedicated fathers of womens tennis are sometimes problematic: Steffi Grafs father was charged with tax evasion, and she herself was nearly arrested for complicity; an American teenage player, Mary Pierce, had to obtain a court restraining order against her parent. Richard Williams was well aware of the dangers of the sport on young women, though, and controlled his daughters career in order to avoid problems. He saw the lesson in Capriati, who turned pro at 14. At 15, she lost her smile, he told Jordan in the New York Times Magazine. At 16, there were problems. What happened? I want to make sure that doesnt happen to my kids, he added.

The Williams Family In the Media

Venuss younger sister, Serena, also showed great promise as a player. Richard Williams predicted that some day the pair would have to play against one another for the womens world title, but he often received more press than either of them. Richard Williams has been called a liar and genius and everything in between, wrote Higdon in Tennis magazine. The senior Williams asserted that his family did not receive any endorsement money from wearing the logo-emblazoned clothing of one sportswear maker at public appearances, but a spokesperson for the company said they had indeed paid him a consultants fee. Yet Williams has also been lauded for shepherding his daughters career down a non-traditional path that kept the focus on her education and allowed her to mature outside of the competitive pressures of the pro circuit. Newspaper reportage about Venus often remarks on her self-assuredness and impressive vocabulary. Her father and coach Macci, declared Finn in the New York Times, have produced a player who appears to possess wit and wisdom beyond her yearswith a serve, volley, and vocabulary to match.

Again Williams stayed out of the limelight for much of 1996, and in the spring of 1997 made her debut at the French Open. A month later, as she turned seventeen, she traveled to England for Wimbledon, perhaps the sports most famous tournament. Serena and Oracene Williams came with her to lend support, but her father stayed home. She received a great deal of attention, but had a poor showing and lost to Magdalena Grzybowska. By the time it was overWilliams stood revealed as a huge talent with little idea of how to adjust to an opponent or adversity, wrote S. L. Price in Sports Illustrated. She remained imperturbable, though. Its my first Wimbledon, she told reporters. There will be many more, she added, according to Sports Illustrated.

Her father asserted that his daughters only weakness is shes overconfident, he stated in the New York Times Magazine. Williamss U.S. Open performance in the late summer of 1997 went somewhat better: she advanced from 66th to 25th in the rankings in one day. Williamss progress as a player was undeniable; almost overnight she had become a force every player but one fears, wrote Price in Sports Illustrated, referring to Martina Hingis, who would take home the title. Both young women were the same age, but Hingis had far more professional competition experience. Still, insiders predicted future greatness for Williams. Pam Shriver, a former U.S. Open titleholder, once played in a training match against Serena and Venus, and she told Higdon in Tennis magazine that Venus didnt know tactically how to play points yet, but she had weapons and has this natural way of intimidating.

Unfortunately, Williamss U.S. Open showing was clouded by charges of racism. Her father, in a telephone interview, told journalists that some of the other players had directed racial epithets toward his daughter. Gracefully, the teenager tried to deflect attention from the potential furor at a press conference, but her fathers comments caused some watchers of the sport to note this may limit her chances of obtaining endorsement contracts. Other African-American players have hinted that subtle discrimination does indeed occur in what has been called a country-club sport, and some of Williamss white competitors on the diva-rife circuit have accused her of not smiling, or of not being friendly enough. Why dont you guys tell me what they want me to do? she queried reporters at one press conference, according to Sports Illustrated. They should come up to me and say, Venus, I want you to smile so I can feel better, she continued.

While the hints of racism would continued to plague Williams, she nevertheless proved to be a fearless opponent. Over the next few years, Williams improved her game, lost weight and the hair beadsshed been fined when they spilled on the court. Soon she won Wimbledon, becoming the first African-American female since Althea Gibson to do so. Both sisters also won the doubles becoming the first set of sisters to do so. When the two faced off in the Wimbledon singles semifinals, it had been over 100 years since a sibling showdown. In the same year, Williams also won two Olympic gold medals in singles and doubles with her sister, Serena, as her partner. She continued the success of her first Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Open in 2000.

Won Both Wimbledon and U.S. OpenAgain

After a stellar 2000 season, Williams needed to prove to the tennis world that she was going to continue to win championships. The first step on that road was to defend her Wimbledon title. Which she did to the amazement of most. Next in line was to defend her U.S. Open title. She battled it out through the semifinals, until she met her opponent for the finalher sister, Serena. Both sisters made precedent yet again by being the first set of sisters to play against each other in U.S. Open history. Venus defeated Serena, winning her second back-to-back grand slam tournament game.

Williams would come out on top in December of 2001 when Reebok re-signed her to a $40 million contract that was believed to be the most lucrative and comprehensive endorsement deal ever created for a female athlete. Of Williams, Reebok said in Footwear News, Venus Williams is arguably the most admired female athlete and among the most recognizable and exciting young women in the world,

Williams has also won numerous honors and awards, including: being named Ms. Women of the Year (along with Serena), by Ms. Magazine in 2001. She was also named Female Player of the Year by Tennis Magazine. She expanded outside of tennis by designing a clothing line for clothing company Wilsons The Leather Experts. She has inked deals with not only Reebok, but also Wrigley Gum, makeup giant Avon, and Nortel Networks. She is also a part-time student working towards her associate degree from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Though she initially planned to study paleontology, she has since switched to fashion design. Many have criticized Williams for not being focused on tennis, including tennis legend, Martina Navritolova, who was quoted in Time as saying her outside interests shows arrogance and lack of commitment to tennis.

Even one family member feels Williams should choose between tennis or the distractions. Her father told the Florida Times Union, If it was up to me, I told Venus two or three years ago that she should retire. I think she should.

Finally, in March of 2002, Williams reached the ultimate goal, earning the number one ranking from the Womens Tennis Association. In an interview with Jet she said, Im very excited about this achievement and look forward to building on it. I have worked hard for it. I hope I can keep it. But my priority is the Grand Slams. In July of 2002, she was defeated in the final round at Wimbledon by the number two-ranked playerSerena. Despite the excitement of being a former tennis prodigy and now the number one female player of the sport, Williams remains a rather ordinary, though somewhat extraordinarily, intelligent and athletic young woman. Williams supports many social causes and speaks to many children on the value of an education. She participates in tennis clinics for would-be tennis players. Regarding the game of tennis, however, she does concede some recognition of her own ability. I never thought anyone was better than me, she told Finn in the New York Times when she was still ranked No. 211. Once you do that, you lose, she added.

Sources

Footwear News, January 1, 2001.

Jet, July 23, 2001, p. 51; March 11, 2002, p. 48.

Ms. Magazine, December 2001, p. 40.

Newsweek, July 17, 2000.

New York Times, November 1, 1994, p. B10; November 2, 1994, p. B9; March 10, 1997, p. C2; September 7, 1997; September 9, 1997.

New York Times Magazine, March 16, 1997.

PR Newswire, December 21, 2001; March 14, 2002.

San Francisco Chronicle, July 7, 2002, p. Bl.

Sport, February 1995, p. 14.

Sports Illustrated, June 13, 1994, p. 10; November 14, 1994, pp. 30-32; July 7, 1997, p. 26; September 15, 1997, pp. 32; September 17, 2001 pp. 40-43.

Star Tribune, August 31, 2001, p. 01D.

Tennis, July 1997, pp. 46-55; February 2001, p. 28.

Carol Brennan, Ashyia N. Henderson, and Ralph Zerbonia

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Williams, Venus

Venus Williams

1980-

American tennis player

Venus Williams' route to superstardom in professional tennis was quite unlike that of most of her fellow players, the majority of whom learned the game from pros at country clubs or expensive tennis academies. Venus and younger sister Serena Williams practiced their tennis basics in a city torn by gang warfare, Compton, California, playing the game on municipal courts. Coached by their father, Richard, the girls showed a natural aptitude for the game and quickly advanced to amateur competition. When Venus made her professional debut in October 1994, Robin Flinn of the New York Times called her "the most unorthodox tennis prodigy her sport has ever seen." Venus, older than sister Serena by about 15 months, was the first to soar to the top of the world women's rankings, and she has stayed firmly entrenched at the top of the game ever since. In the opening years of the new millennium, the sisters were trading the number one ranking back and forth. It became almost a given that the sisters would face off against each other in the finals of the major tournaments on the women's tour. Surprisingly, despite the increased competition between the sisters, Venus and Serena remained as close as ever, the winner comforting her losing sibling after every major tournament in which they played against each other. A striking figure, standing more than 6 feet tall, Venus remains in firm control of her game. Despite a flurry of rumors that she was considering pulling out of the game, she continues to play and play well, handily defeating most comers, except little sister Serena, who has been on the winning side more often than Venus.

Compton Childhood

Williams was born in Lynwood, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, on June 17, 1980, the fourth of five daughters born to Richard and Oracene (nicknamed Brandi) Williams. Sister Serena, the last of the five Williams sisters, was born in September 1981. Her father ran a private security firm in Compton and was a dedicated fan of tennis, who became hooked on the game by watching televised coverage of professional tournaments, told his wife that he wanted to make tennis stars out of his daughters. He had little luck with his older girlsIsha, Lyndrea, and Yetundenone of whom showed any particular aptitude for the game. His efforts proved far more successful with Venus and Serena, both of whom turned out to be naturals on the court. The girls learned the game on nearby Compton municipal courts, frequently having to take cover to avoid being hit by stray gunfire from the gang violence that gripped the city. As Richard Williams schooled Venus and Serena in the finer points of the game, their mother,

a devout Jehovah's Witness, home-schooled her daughters, all of whom adopted her faith and became active members of the church.

Venus began playing tennis when she was only 4 years old. By the time she was 7, she had come to the attention of tennis great John McEnroe and Pete Sampras , both of whom encouraged her to continue to pursue the game. At the tender age of 10, Venus was ranked the number one player in the keenly competitive under-12 division of Southern California, a ranking inherited not long thereafter by younger sister Serena. So strong was Venus's game as a pre-teen that she won 63 consecutive matches without a single loss. Word of her talent reached the media, and in the summer of 1991 both Sports Illustrated and Tennis ran stories about the amazing tennis prodigy from the mean streets of Compton. All the publicity was accompanied by growing criticism of Richard Williams' singleminded focus on making Venus into a tennis star with little regard for giving her any semblance of a normal childhood. The criticism hit home with Venus's father, who told Sports Illustrated : "I'd like for the racket to stay out of her hand for a while. Venus is still young. We want her to be a little girl while she is a little girl. I'm not going to let Venus pass up her childhood. Long after tennis is over, I want her to know who she is." In 1991 Williams pulled both Venus and Serena out of junior tennis competition and moved the family to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Attends Ric Macci's Academy

Although she was temporarily out of tennis competition, Venus continued to work on her game. Her father enrolled Venus and Serena in Ric Macci's tennis academy. Venus continued to be schooled at home and spent about six hours a day, six days a week practicing tennis. Even though she had officially withdrawn from competition, sports-related manufacturers still expressed an interest in signing her to product endorsement deals if she decided to turn pro. In October 1994, at the age of 14, Venus made her professional debut at the Bank of the West Classic in Oakland, California. The unranked teen handily defeated Shaun Stafford, a player ranked number 59 in the world. She went on to play the world's secondranked woman player, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario , giving the Spaniard a good game before losing. In an interview with Robin Finn of the New York Times, Stafford said of Venus: "She's going to be great for women's tennis." In joining the pro tour before the end of 1994, Williams dodged a new rule of the Women's Tennis Council of the World Tennis Association that, beginning in 1995, would bar women under the age of 18 from competition.

Because Venus entered into professional competition before the new rules took effect, she maintained a limited schedule at first, continuing her schooling at home. She next took to the courts professionally in August 1995, 10 months after her debut. On this outing she didn't fare nearly as well as she had in her debut, losing in the first round. Her loss prompted some tennis analysts to suggest that Venus's game lacked the competitive edge she might have developed had she continued to compete in junior tournaments. To rectify this and energize his daughter's game, Richard Williams sometimes cheered for her opponent in public matches. "Every time she loses, I pay her $50," Williams told Pat Jordan, a writer for New York Times Magazine. Like a lot of other "tennis dads," men who took an active role in their daughters' careers on the court, Richard Williams came in for a fair share of negative publicity. But giving Williams his due, New York Times writer Finn concluded that Venus's father and coach Macci together had "produced a player who appears to possess wit and wisdom beyond her yearswith a serve, volley, and vocabulary to match."

Makes Her Debut at French Open

Venus managed to stay out of the limelight for most of 1996 but in May 1997 made her debut at the French Open, winning her first match against Naoko Sawamatsu in three sets. However, she fell in the second round of the tournament to Natalie Tauziat of France. Equally uninspired was Venus's debut the following month at Wimbledon, where she lost in the first round to Poland's Magdalena Grzybowska. On the basis of her disappointing performances at the French Open and Wimbledon, most tennis observers expected little from Venus at the U.S. Open in 1997. Surprising everyone but herself, Williams advanced to the semi-finals, facing off against Irina Spirlea of Romania. In doing so, Venus became only the second female ever to reach the semi-finals in her first appearance at the U.S. Open. She defeated Spirlea 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, becoming the first unseeded woman and only the second African-American female player ever to reach the tournament's final (Althea Gibson was the first). Of Gibson's contribution to the game, Venus said she "paved the way for us to play, because other than that, we would still be fighting to play on the tour. To live up to what she did would be great. It's important for me to know my history."

In the finals of the U.S. Open, Williams faced number one-rated Martina Hingis , who handily dispatched Venus, 6-0, 6-4. Despite the loss, she felt that she had proved herself a force to be reckoned with in tennis. She told a reporter, "In the past I really didn't worry about what other people thought because it was important what I thought, what my family thought. There's a lot of myths floating around. I knew one day people would see. It would just be a little bit of time; I hadn't played that much. So, I guess this is a great tournament for me. Maybe a fraction of the talk will stop."

Turns Tables on Hingis

Early in 1998, Williams turned the tables on Hingis at the Australian Open, advancing to the quarter-finals of the singles tournament before losing to Lindsay Davenport . In mixed doubles competition, Venus teamed with Justin Gimelstob to win the title. It proved to be an upbeat start for a year in which Venus further demonstrated her promise on the court. At the IGA Tennis Classic, she won her first singles title by beating South Africa's Joannette Kruger 6-3, 6-2. In the wake of this victory, her ranking jumped to number 12. Venus took her second career singles title in an all-teen final at the Lipton Championships when she defeated Anna Kournikova . She beat Patty Schnyder 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 to win the Grand Slam Cup and advanced to the semi-finals of the U.S. Open, where she was defeated by Lindsay Davenport.

In 1999 singles competition, Williams won titles at Oklahoma City, Miami, Hamburg, the Italian Open, New Haven, and Zurich. Teaming with younger sister Serena, she won doubles titles at both the French and U.S. Opens and also at Hannover, Germany. The following year, Venus and Serena teamed up to win the doubles title at Wimbledon and the gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. In 2000 singles competition, Venus won titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the Sydney Olympics, Stanford, San Diego, and New Haven. In 2001, Venus successfully defended her Wimbledon and U.S. Open singles titles, while also winning titles at Miami, Hamburg, San Diego, and New Haven. She again teamed with Serena to win the doubles title at the 2001 Australian Open.

Serena Dominates in 2002

In 2002, it was Serena's turn to shine. Although she had to skip the singles competition at the Australian Open because of a sprained ankle, Serena won the other three Grand Slam tournamentsthe French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Openthat year. Venus also did well, but all her wins came at second-tier tournaments, including the Gold Coast, Paris Indoors, Antwerp, Amelia Island, Stanford, San Diego, and New Haven. The sisters teamed up to win the doubles title at the 2002 Australian Open, a feat they duplicated again in January 2003, marking the sixth Grand Slam doubles win by the Williams sisters. In the Australian Open's singles final, Venus faced off against Serena, but once again Serena triumphed, taking the last four of the Grand Slam tournaments to complete what fans were calling the "Serena Slam."

Chronology

1980 Born in Lynwood, California, on June 17
1991 Moves with family to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
1991 Begins training in tennis at Ric Macci's academy in Delray Beach, Florida
1994 Makes professional debut in October at Oakland, California
1999 Enrolls at Art Institute of Florida to study interior design

Related Biography: Coach Ric Macci

One of the most influential forces in shaping the careers of Venus and Serena Williams, apart from their father, has been Ric Macci, who runs a world-famous tennis academy in Florida. Since 1980 Macci has been coaching some of the most promising young tennis players from around the world including Jennifer Capriati and Any Roddick.

In the summer of 1991, Richard Williams contacted Macci and asked him to come to Compton to meet Venus and assess her potential as a tennis player. In an interview with David Higdon of Tennis magazine, Macci recalled Williams' request and his subsequent trip to California. "I hear it all the time: 'I've got the next Jennifer [Capriati].' Richard said he'd like to meet me but the only thing he could promise me was that I wouldn't get shot. All I could think of was: 'Who is this guy?'" Upon his arrival in Compton, Macci was driven by Williams to the local municipal park where Venus and sister Serena practiced tennis under their father's guidance. "There must have been 30 guys there already playing basketball and another 20 lying on the grass passed out."

After playing a few games with Venus, Macci remained unimpressed. But then, as he told Higdon, Venus asked "to go to the bathroom and as she walks out the gate, she walks at least 10 yards on her hands. Then she went into these backward cartwheels for another 10 yards. I'm watching this and the first thing I thought was: 'I've got a female Michael Jordan on my hands.'" Soon thereafter Venus and Serena, who had moved with their family to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, began training at Macci's academy in Delray Beach. The academy has since been relocated to nearby Pompano Beach.

Away from the tennis court, Venus studies interior design at the Art Institute of Florida. She's already opened her own interior design companyV Starr Interiorswith branches in both Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter, Florida. When not playing tennis or tending to her business, Williams likes to visit art galleries, particularly

enjoying the work of young, emerging artists. In addition to her interior design business, Venus designs a line of women's leather apparel, called the Venus Williams Collection, for Wilson's Leather. She shares her Florida home with a pet dog named Bobby. When she leaves tennis, Venus hopes to continue her careers in interior design and fashion design and also try her hand at choreography.

A tennis phenom since she was a pre-teen, Venus Williams continues to thrill tennis fans around the world. She and sister Serena have each held the number one ranking back and forth between themselves, clearly dominating the women's tennis scene. Asked about her personal formula for success, Venus told Sports Illustrated : "I think you have to believe in yourself and never give up and one day you'll make it."

Awards and Accomplishments

1997 Ranking climbs from 211 to 64 by year's end
1998 Wins first singles title at IGA Tennis Classic
1998 Defeats Patty Schnyder to win Grand Slam Cup
1999 Teams with sister Serena to win doubles title at French Open
1999 Ranked among top 10 in women's tennis, along with sister Serena
2000 Wins gold in singles and doubles at Sydney Olympics
2000 Wins first Grand Slam at Wimbledon by defeating Lindsay Davenport
2001 Successfully defends Wimbledon title by defeating Justine Henin in final
2002 Beats Henin in three finals: Gold Coast, Antwerp, Amelia Island
2002 Wins final at Open Gaz de France by beating Jelena Dokic

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: c/o Women's Tennis Association, 133 First St. NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

"Venus Williams." Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 34. Gale Group, 2002.

"Venus Williams." Newsmakers 1998, Issue 2. Gale Group, 1998.

"Venus Williams." Sports Stars, Series 1-4. Gale Group, 1994-1998.

Periodicals

Gardenour, Jeff. "Macci Named Coach of the Year." Winter Haven News Chief, (May 24, 1992).

Reilly, Rick. "Double Whammy: You Just Know Serena and Venus Will Trade the No. 1 Ranking Back and Forth Like a Dress That Fits Both. "Sports Illustrated, (July 15, 2002).

"Sisters Grand Slam Matches." AP Worldstream, (September 8, 2002).

Other

"Players: Venus Williams." WTA Tour. http://www.wtatour.com/index.cfm?section=players&cont_id=player&:personnel_id=238&roster_id=12 (January 24, 2003).

"Ric Macci." TennisONE. http://www.tennisone.com/Bios/biomacci.html (January 24, 2003).

"Venus Starr Williams." WilliamsSisters.org. http://venusandserena.homestead.com/VenusBio.html (January 24, 2003).

"Venus Williams: Career Highlights." ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/tennis/s/wta/profiles/vwilliams.html (January 24, 2003).

Sketch by Don Amerman

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Williams, Venus 1980–

Venus Williams 1980

Professional tennis player

A Female Michael Jordan

Remarkable Debut

Unnerved in Competitive Heat

The Williams Family In the Media

A Force To Be Reckoned

Sources

When Venus Williams made her debut in professional womens tennis in 1994, the New York Timess Robin Finn called her the most unorthodox tennis prodigy her sport has ever seen. Three years later, the seventeen-year-old, six-foot-two-inch athlete was an international celebrity: photographs of Williams with the beads in her cornrowed hair clicking through the air, her face a study in determination as her racket smacked the ball to her opponent, were some of the most memorable of the 1997 tennis season. Though she enjoyed success at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, her opponents were often younger and had been playing competitive tennis longer; moreover, the blunt remarks of Williamss outspoken father sometimes overshadowed her rising star.

Williams was born in the Watts area of Los Angeles in June of 1980, the fourth of Richard and Oracene Williamss five daughters. Richard Williams was part-owner of a security business, and her mother is a nurse. A few years later the family moved from Watts to nearby Compton. All five Williams daughters played tennis as youngsters, but the two youngest, Venus and Serena, were outstanding players from an early age. Compton was a city somewhat infamous for its troubles with gang-related activity, and the girls practiced the game at a court in a park that gang members frequented. Venus Williams began entering competitions, went unbeaten in 63 games, and by the age of ten had won the Southern California girls title in the under-12 division.

A Female Michael Jordan

Both Sports Illustrated and Tennis magazine noticed Williamss talent, and ran stories on her in the summer of 1991 calling her tenniss newest pixie and a prodigy. Her father contacted Rick Macci, a tennis coach in Florida, and asked him to come to Compton to meet his daughter and judge her potential. I hear it all the time: Ive got the next Jennifer [Capriati], Macci told Tennis magazines David Higdon. Richard said hed like to meet me but the only thing he could promise me was that I wouldnt get shot. All I could think of was: Who is this guy? he recalled. Early one morning Richard drove the visiting Macci to the park. There must have been 30 guys there already playing basket-ball and another 20 lying on the grass passed out,

At a Glance

Born Venus Ebone Starr Williams, June 17.1980, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Richard (a security-business owner and daughters coach) and Oracene (a nurse) Williams. Religion: Jehovahs Witness.

Career: Played junior tennis until 1991; became professional tennis player, October, 1994.

Addresses: Home Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Macci recollected in Tennis magazine. He played a few games with Venus, and was unimpressed. Then, he remembered, she asks to go to the bathroom and as she walks out the gate, she walks at least 10 yards on her hands. Then she went into these backward cartwheels for another 10 yards. Im watching this and the first thing I thought was: Ive got a female Michael Jordan on my hands.

The Williams family moved to Florida when Venus enrolled in Maccis tennis academy there. She also withdrew from junior tennis that year at the age of 11. Instead of mixing practice with the competition circuit, Williams stayed put, was schooled at home, and practiced six hours a day, six times a week. She did this for four yearsa decision, Macci said, that Williams and her family had made based on her unique temperament. Putting her in a traditional development system would be like putting her in prison, the coach told Finn in the New York Times. When she was thirteen, companies were already contacting Williams and her family to offer endorsement contracts if she did turn pro.

Remarkable Debut

Tennis-watchers wondered when Williams would succumb to the luresome young women in tennis entered professional competition at the age of fourteen, dropping out of school and playing the tournament circuit, and earning large sums of money either by winning prize purses or the signing lucrative product endorsement contracts. It was a potentially disastrous situation for many young players. Richard Williams appeared on the ABC news program Nightline in the summer of 1994 after former preteen tennis prodigy Jennifer Capriati was arrested and faced drug charges, and declared hed never allow Venus to turn pro at such a young age. He was criticized, however for wearing a hat and vest with both bearing the logo of a sports-energy food product during the television interview.

Surprisingly, Williams turned pro just a few months later. Her debut came in October of 1994 at the Bank of the West Classic in Oakland, California. There, the fourteen-year-old beat the woman ranked Number 59 in the world, Shaun Stafford, then went on to give Arantxa Sanchez Vicariowomen tenniss Number 2 playera good game before losing. Shes going to be great for womens tennis, Stafford told the New York Timess Finn. Some wondered, however, why Williams had suddenly entered the professional circuit, but new rules adopted by the Womens Tennis Council of the World Tennis Association at the time may have provided just cause. After the close of 1994, fourteen-year-olds were barred from turning pro, and young women under 18 who entered the competition level from 1995 onward were limited in the number of tournaments in which they could participate.

Unnerved in Competitive Heat

Though she had skated into the professional level exempt from these rules, Williams restricted her schedule anyway. She stayed in school and did not appear again on the pro circuit until an August 1995 event, the Acura Classic in Manhattan Beach, California; she lost in the first round. Some tennis analysts noted that because she lacked the junior-tournament experience, Williams had not learned to inject a competitive edge to her game. Her father has tried to rectify this, sometimes by rooting against her in public matches. Conversely, he told New York Times Magazine writer Pat Jordan, Every time she loses, I pay her $50.

As the New York Times Magazine profile pointed out, however, the dedicated fathers of womens tennis are sometimes problematic: Steffi Grafs father was charged with tax evasion, and she herself was nearly arrested for complicity; an American teenage player, Mary Pierce, had to obtain a court restraining order against her parent. Richard Williams was well aware of the dangers of the sport on young women, though, and controlled his daughters career in order to avoid problems. He saw the lesson in Capriati, who turned pro at 14. At 15, she lost her smile, he told Jordan in the New York Times Magazine. At 16, there were problems. What happened? I want to make sure that doesnt happen to my kids, he added.

The Williams Family In the Media

Venuss younger sister, Serena, also showed great promise as a player. Richard Williams predicted that some day the pair would have to play against one another for the womens world title, but he often received more press than either of them. Richard Williams has been called a liar and genius and everything in between, wrote Higdon in Tennis magazine. The senior Williams asserted that his family did not receive any endorsement money from wearing the logo-emblazoned clothing of one sportswear maker at public appearances, but a spokesperson for the company said they had indeed paid him a consultants fee. Yet Williams has also been lauded for shepherding his daughters career down a non-traditional path that kept the focus on her education and allowed her to mature outside of the competitive pressures of the pro circuit. Newspaper reportage about Venus often remarks on her self-assuredness and impressive vocabulary. Her father and coach Macci, declared Finn in the New York Times, have produced a player who appears to possess wit and wisdom beyond her yearswith a serve, volley, and vocabulary to match.

Again, Williams stayed out of the limelight for much of 1996, and in the spring of 1997 made her debut at the French Open. A month later, as she turned seventeen, she traveled to England for Wimbledon, perhaps the sports most famous tournament. Serena and Oracene Williams came with her to lend support, but her father stayed home. She received a great deal of attention, but had a poor showing and lost to Magdalena Grzybowska. By the time it was over.Williams stood revealed as a huge talent with little idea of how to adjust to an opponent or adversity, wrote S. L. Price in Sports Illustrated. She remained imperturbable, though. Its my first Wimbledon, she told reporters. There will be many more, she added, according to Sports Illustrated.

A Force To Be Reckoned

Her father asserted that his daughters only weakness is shes overconfident, he stated in the New York Times Magazine. Williamss U.S. Open performance in the late summer of 1997 went somewhat better: she advanced from 66th to 25th in the rankings in one day. Williamss progress as a player was undeniable; almost overnight she had become a force every player but one fears, wrote Price in Sports Illustrated, referring to Martina Hingis, who would take home the title. Both young women were the same age, but Hingis had far more professional competition experience. Still, insiders predicted future greatness for Williams. Pam Shriver, a former U.S. Open titleholder, once played in a training match against Serena and Venus, and she told Higdon in Tennis magazine that Venus didnt know tactically how to play points yet, but she had weapons and has this natural way of intimidating.

Unfortunately, Williamss U.S. Open showing was clouded by charges of racism. Her father, in a telephone interview, told journalists that some of the other players had directed racial epithets toward his daughter. Gracefully, the teenager tried to deflect attention from the potential furor at a press conference, but her fathers comments caused some watchers of the sport to note this may limit her chances of obtaining endorsement contracts. Other African American players have hinted that subtle discrimination does indeed occur in what has been called a country-club sport, and some of Williamss white competitors on the diva-rife circuit have accused her of not smiling, or of not being friendly enough. Why dont you guys tell me what they want me to do? she queried reporters at one press conference, according to Sports Illustrated. They should come up to me and say, Venus, I want you to smile so I can feel better, she continued.

Despite the excitement of being a tennis prodigy, Williams remains a rather ordinarythough somewhat extraordinarily intelligent and athletically giftedteenager. She lives with her family in Palm Beach Gardens, is close to sister Serena, and along with the rest of her family is a practicing Jehovahs Witness. She plans to become a paleontologist, listens to Rage Against the Machine, and has a shed-full of toys that include a drum kit and a full-sized surfboard. Regarding the game of tennis, however, she does concede some recognition of her own ability. I never thought anyone was better than me, she told Finn in the New York Times when she was still ranked No. 211. Once you do that, you lose, she added.

Sources

New York Times, November 1, 1994, p. B10; November 2, 1994, p. B9; March 10, 1997, p. C2; September 7, 1997; September 9, 1997. New York Times Magazine, March 16, 1997. Sport, February 1995, p. 14.

Sports Illustrated, June 13, 1994, p. 10; November 14, 1994, pp. 30-32; July 7, 1997, p. 26; September 15, 1997, pp. 32.

Tennis, July 1997, pp. 46-55.

Carol Brennan

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Williams, Venus Ebone Starr

Venus Ebone Starr Williams, 1980–, b. Lynwood, Calif., and Serena Jameka Williams, 1981–, b. Saginaw, Mich., African-American tennis players. Coached by their father, Richard, both sisters turned professional early, but neither played regularly until the late 1990s, when they began to dominate women's singles tennis with their power games. They have faced each other in Grand Slam finals several times, and have also teamed as doubles partners for more than a dozen Grand Slam titles and three Olympic gold medals.

Venus turned pro at 14, reached the finals of the U.S. Open in 1997, and won her first Women's Tennis Association (WTA) singles championship in 1998. She captured her first Grand Slam events in 2000, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, as well as the Olympic gold medal in women's singles. In 2001, Venus successfully defended her Wimbledon and U.S. titles. In the U.S. Open she defeated Serena in the first sisters' championship since 1884; it was the first time that two African-Americans competed for the title. Venus won Wimbledon again in 2005, 2007, and 2008, when she again faced her sister in the final.

Serena turned pro in 1995, and four years later she won her first WTA singles title. The same year she captured her first Grand Slam event, winning the U.S. Open. During the next two years Venus was in the ascendancy, but in 2002 Serena bested her older sister three times to win the French and U.S. opens and Wimbledon. In 2003, Serena defeated Venus to win her first Australian Open and second Wimbledon titles. Serena won the Australian Open again in 2005, 2007, 2009–10, and 2015, the U.S. Open in 2008 and 2012–14, Wimbledon in 2009 (defeating Venus in the final), 2010, 2012, and 2015, and the French Open in 2013 and 2015. Also, in 2012, Serena won Olympic gold in women's singles.

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Williams, Venus

Williams, Venus (1980) Eldest of two professional tennis playing sisters. Venus and Serena (1981– ) shot to fame in the 1990s with a series of high-profile wins. In 1997 Venus became the first unseeded woman to reach the final of the US Open, and the first African-American woman to do so since Althea Gibson in 1958. Venus has won Wimbledon twice (2000 and 2001) and the US Open once (2001). Serena Williams has won twice at the US Open (1999 and 2002), and twice at Wimbledon (2002 and 2003).

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