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The Williams Sisters

The iconic tennis sisters, Serena and Venus Williams, have been at the top of their game for more than two decades – they have been credited with taking tennis to another level.

They have been described as the women’s equivalent to John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, in the way they have brought tennis into mainstream culture, while gaining celebrity status at the same time.

The sisters have inspired thousands of young female players into believing they can succeed –  they have also launched their own tennis academy to help youngsters on the road to success. Their unique playing style, together with dedication and perseverance have made them role models in women’s tennis today.

Williams “revolution”

The sisters’ style of play – power tennis combined with amazing skills – has been described as the “Williams revolution”. They are the first of a modern generation of hard-hitting, tall, powerful women, who play with a new physicality.

However, there is far more to the revolution than just their physical size and strength. When the Williams sisters first appeared on the circuit, a lot of their counterparts realised they couldn’t beat Venus or Serena in terms of power. However, they thought they could beat them with craft.

In reality, this wasn’t feasible either, as both sisters were revealed to be skilled defensive players too, keeping balls alive that no female player would have been able to keep in play in the past. Soon, they began to seem invincible.

Early life

So, how did the two powerhouses of women’s tennis become such accomplished players? Venus was born in Lynwood, California, on 17th June 1980, to Richard and Oracene Williams. Her father was a former sharecropper (a tenant farmer) and the family wasn’t well off.

After introducing Venus to tennis at the age of four, on the public courts near the family’s home, Richard recognised her talents and reinvented himself as her coach. Learning how to coach from videos and books, he wrote a 78-page coaching plan.

Serena was born on 26th September 1981 after the family moved to Saginaw, Michigan. Her talent for tennis was also nurtured from the age of four. The sisters’ parents became their full-time coaches and their mother learned tennis herself to personally teach them the technical side of the game.

“Poise under pressure”

Oracene has been credited with helping to keep Venus and Serena focused and disciplined, building their self-esteem and making sure they had outside interests, other than tennis. Her attitude was responsible for their renowned “poise under pressure”.

Despite their divorce in 2002, Richard and Oracene continued jointly to help their daughters to manage their careers and their lives.

The family moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, when Venus was 10 years old so that both girls could attend Rick Macci’s tennis academy and hone their skills. When Venus was 11, she held a 63–0 record on the US Tennis Association’s junior tour and held the number one ranking for under-12s.

Career milestones

In 1995, Richard began coaching the girls at their home, taking them out of the academy. Venus turned professional at the age of 14, on 31st October 1994. Serena turned professional one year later, also when she was 14.

During their long career, which continues today, despite Venus and Serena being 37 and 36 respectively, they have swept the board in women’s tennis, enjoying unprecedented success.

Venus has won 21 Grand Slams, including seven singles titles and 14 doubles with Serena. She has also won four Olympic gold medals – one for the ladies’ singles and three doubles medals with Serena. She has reigned supreme in Wimbledon’s women’s singles championship six times.

They have dominated Wimbledon since 2000, when Venus won her first title – Serena won her first Wimbledon title in 2002. Serena has won the Australian Open seven times and the Wimbledon singles titles seven times.  In fact, one of the sisters won the Wimbledon title almost every year until 2016, when Serena was champion! As a team, the Williams sisters have won the Wimbledon doubles title six times.

Serena has won 23 Grand Slams and is considered the most successful female player of the Open era. In January 2018, she revealed she was still hungry for more Grand Slam titles and she is back to fitness after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, in September 2017.

Other achievements

Venus has fought back from illness after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, in 2011. Both sisters are former number one singles players in the world tennis rankings.

In their private life, Venus and Serena became the first African-American women to buy shares of an NFL team in 2009, after joining the ownership group of the Miami Dolphins. Venus has actively supported UNESCO’s campaign to promote gender equality throughout the world.

Serena has also championed social causes, as she is an active supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and has supported charities such as the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Build African Schools.

Their impact on women’s tennis over the past two decades is unmatched. A whole generation of new female players have never known a tennis tour without the Williams sisters being at the forefront of the game. Some of today’s prominent female players have described seeing Venus and Serena playing and feeling inspired to emulate their success.

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