Where to begin with what made tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams, well, Venus and Serena Williams?
Who were they before they dominated the women’s tennis circuit? How is Venus having a comeback at 36? And whose box is their mother going to sit in when they go head-to-head in the Australian Open final this Saturday?
Serena, 35, is the little sister who said I can do anything you can do – and better. She has won the second most Grand Slam singles titles in history (equal with Steffi Graf) with 22 in her trophy cabinet and Venus has won seven Grand Slam single titles.
Their tennis career began before they could even hold a racquet. Their father, Richard Williams a former sharecropper from Louisiana, watched a tennis match on TV and thought the winner received a big cheque for “four days work”.
He then wrote a 78-page manifesto outlining how he would make his two youngest daughters tennis stars.
By three and four-and-a-half he was hitting balls with them on the local public tennis court in Compton, Los Angeles (yes, the same Compton in the movie Straight Outta Compton) a tough neighbourhood overrun by gangs. In this environment Richard thought his daughters would learn how to be tough in return and how to fight for what you want in life. He also wanted the sisters to see first-hand what life would be like “if they did not work hard and get an education”.
The public courts they trained on were potholed, sometimes missing nets and littered with drug paraphernalia. Often they had people yelling at them as they practiced. An old supermarket cart was chained to the net post to store the tennis balls they would bring for practice. If they didn’t chain the cart it would probably be stolen.