US Open 2012: The Williams Sisters: The Making of Champions, Part 2
Continued from part 1
THE RISE OF VENUS
In October 1994, 14-year-old Venus, the “Ghetto Cinderella” as her father referred to her, played her first professional tournament at Oakland, California.
In her first match, with Rick Macci and Richard looking on, she beat world No. 58 Shaun Stafford, 6-3, 6-4. This was despite not having played a tournament match for over three years.
In the next round she played world No. 2 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.
She lost the match in three sets, having led 6-2, 3-1.
Afterward, she was asked how this defeat compared to others she had suffered.
She replied, “I don’t know I've never lost before!”
Then in May 1995, age just 14 and having played in just one professional event, Venus signed a five-year, $12 million contract with Reebok—thus virtually guaranteeing the family’s financial security for life.
The contract, though, effectively ended the coaching relationship between Macci and the Williamses.
Although Richard wanted him to continue coaching the sisters, Macci wanted financial compensation for the $1 million worth of work and time he claimed to have invested in the family during their four years at his academy.
Neither would budge, and soon after Richard bought a 40-acre compound near Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on which he built three courts.
There, he trained the sisters himself, with the help of hitting-coach Dave Rineberg; Macci went back to working full-time at his Academy.
In October 1995, age 15, Venus gained her first world ranking of No. 321 and ended the year No. 217.
During 1996 she rose to No. 148, and in April 1997, age 16, entered the Top 100.
Venus at Wimbledon
Venus played at Wimbledon for the first time in 1997, where, though performing well, she lost in the first round in three sets to Magdalena Grzybowska.
Then in September, ranked No. 66 and unseeded, she reached the US Open final, losing in straight sets to Martina Hingis.
She finished 1997 ranked No. 21.
She entered the Top 10 in March 1998 and finished the year world No. 5. By the end of 1999, age 19, she had risen to No. 3.
Age 20, Venus beat Lindsay Davenport in the 2000 final, to win her first Wimbledon title.
She again beat Davenport in the final to win her first U.S. Open, and later that month won the gold medal for singles at the Sidney Olympics.
Also that year, with Serena, she won the doubles titles at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the gold medal at the Olympics.
In 2001 Venus won her second Wimbledon, beating Justine Henin in the final, defeated Serena in the final to win her second U.S. Open and ended 2001 ranked world No. 3.
Age 21, Venus reached world No. 1 in April 2002.
When asked if she was surprised that she had attained this ranking, she replied,
“I've known I could be number one since I was six years old. I heard my parents telling me so many times that I would become the world’s best one day, and that I would write my name in every Grand Slam’s records book, that I ended up believing it.
When I was younger I even thought I could beat John McEnroe!”
People have sometimes been taken aback by Venus’ honesty and even accused her of arrogance.
She replies though, “Some people say I have an attitude, but I think you have to.
You have to believe in yourself when no-one else does, that’s what makes you a winner right there.”
Towards the Serena Slam
In September 1995, age 14, Serena played her first professional tournament at the Bell Challenge in Vanier, Quebec City.
Claiming she froze on the day, she lost in the first round 6-1, 6-1 to world No. 149 Anne Miller in less than an hour.
She spent all of 1996 working on her game at home with Richard and Dave Rineberg, entering no professional events, but due to her training she improved dramatically.
Serena gained her first world ranking of No. 448 in October 1997, age 16. The following month she played in the Ameritech Cup tournament in Chicago.
There, she defeated both fourth seed Monica Seles and seventh seed Mary Pierce on her way to the semifinals, where she lost to Lindsay Davenport.
These results catapulted her into the world’s Top 100 at age 16, and she ended 1997 ranked No. 96.
Like Venus before, Serena then signed a five-year $12 million contract, but this time with Puma.
In June 1998, just eight months after achieving her first world ranking, Serena entered the Top 20 and age 17, ending the year world No. 22.
Serena entered the Top 10 in May 1999, age 17, and seeded seventh, unexpectedly became the first of the sisters to win a Grand Slam title, beating Martina Hingis in the U.S. Open final.
She rose to and ended the year, age 18, ranked world No. 4.
In 2000 Serena lost to Venus in the semifinals of Wimbledon and ended the year world No. 6, a position she repeated in 2001.
Serena at Wimbledon
2002 was Serena’s breakthrough year.
Age 20, and without losing a set in the entire tournament, she beat Venus in the final to win the French Open.
She then defeated Venus in the final to win her first Wimbledon and became world No. 1.
In September she again beat Venus in the final to win her second U.S. Open.
She won the first of her four Australian Opens in 2003, thus completing her “Serena Slam,” in which she held all four Grand Slam singles titles at the same time.
Incredibly, in all these finals and that of Wimbledon 2003, she played and beat Venus, who remained world No. 2.
THE REALISATION OF A DREAM
16 years after it all began on those worn-out, run-down, public courts in Compton, Richard Williams’ dream that his daughters would compete in the finals of all the Grand Slam tournaments had become a reality.
Between 2000 and 2003, in both singles and doubles, the Williams sisters totally dominated the world of women’s professional tennis.
Tough Times for the Sisters
Despite struggling with injuries, Serena again won the 2005 Australian Open.
For the next few years though, like Venus, she spent much of her time out of the game injured, but used the time to develop her other interests in fashion and acting.
At the 2006 Wimbledon Championships, which she missed through injury, I asked Richard Williams if Serena was coming back.
He replied, “Yeah for sure she’ll be back, just as soon as she’s finished making movies, she be making movies now.”
Serena did of course come back, winning the 2007 and 2009 Australian Opens, and in 2009 beat Venus in the Wimbledon final to win her third title.
Serena captured her fourth Wimbledon in 2010, with a straight sets final win over Vera Zvonareva.
Shortly afterwards, though, she suffered a freak accident, cutting her foot by stepping on broken glass when exiting a restaurant in Germany.
The foot injury required surgery, which kept her from playing at the U.S. Open, and in October she announced she would not be competing again that year.
In November she withdrew from the forthcoming Australian Open, explaining that she had a second surgery to repair her damaged foot.
Following this surgery, her foot was in a plaster for the next 20 weeks.
Perhaps as a result of general inactivity as she recovered, in March 2011 Serena was re-admitted to hospital once again.
There she required surgery to remove a series of a blood clots, which had gathered on both her lungs and brought her, in her own words, “Close to death.”
Meanwhile Venus, Serena’s closest confidant, took time out from the tour to be with her younger sister.
Thankfully, the sisters were able to compete at Wimbledon 2011, where despite having hardly played any competitive tennis for almost an entire year, both made it to the fourth round.
At the U.S. Open, Venus was forced to withdraw from her second round match, having announced she was suffering from the debilitating disease Sjogren’s Syndrome, which causes fatigue and joint pain.
Following Wimbledon, Serena won tournaments at Stanford and Cincinnati, before losing in the final of the U.S. Open to Sam Stosur.
The Williams Sisters
One of the reasons the Williams sisters have been so successful is that they share an intense personal rivalry.
As a youngster, it was Venus who received the majority of media attention. This made Serena all the more eager to keep up with her big sister.
After seeing Serena win the first of their Grand Slam titles at the 1999 US Open, Venus said:
“Sitting there watching almost killed me.”
No surprise then that this spurred Venus to win her first Grand Slams at Wimbledon and then the U.S. Open the following year.
In 2003 it was Serena’s turn to dominate, as she completed the “Serena Slam”.
Not wanting to be overshadowed, Venus then improved again and won more titles.
Venus once said of Serena, “It’s difficult to say how I would have achieved many of my greatest accomplishments without Serena in my life.”
“It’s not easy for me to play someone I care so much about,” said Serena, before beating Venus in the 2003 Wimbledon final.
The Williams sisters have played each other 23 times as professionals, with Serena holding the edge 13 to 10.
In Grand Slam singles titles Serena also holds the edge, having won 14 compared to Venus’ seven.
Despite this, the two remain incredibly close as sisters, always supporting each other and declaring that when one finally retires then the other will do so, too.
Along with their 21 Grand Slam singles titles, in doubles they have also collected 13 Grand Slam titles, three Olympic Gold medals and four Grand Slam mixed titles.
Approaching the 2012 U.S. Open the Williams sisters’ combined on-court career earnings were in excess of $65 million, a figure which could probably be quadrupled when including their lucrative endorsements, exhibitions and interests in the worlds of acting, fashion and interior design.
Not a bad for two girls, "Straight outta Compton!"
From my book, "So You Want to Win Wimbledon? - How to turn the dream into reality" - available from Amazon