Black History Month Legends: Venus and Serena
It is, quite possibly, the best sports story of the modern era. Two young black girls from Compton, Calif., trained by their father, himself a self-taught player and coach, who grow up to be two of the greatest players in tennis history.
Throughout their illustrious careers, Venus and Serena Williams have shattered every glass ceiling put in their way. They have developed into all-time champions and icons that transcend sport, the kind of superstars immediately recognizable by the mere mention of their first names.
Their background has become the stuff of legend. They were taught to play by their father, Richard, who used tennis manuals and videos to learn how to instruct his daughters, reasoning that tennis offered them the best chance at sustained sporting success. They practiced on courts littered with broken concrete and shards of glass but often absent nets, many times with police sirens howling in the background.
But they persevered, improving daily because, little did they realize, their respective practice partner may have also been the second-best junior player in the world.
The Williams sisters burst onto the professional scene in the late 1990s with braids in their hair and rocket-powered games, employing big serves, open-stance backhands and indomitable wills to win. Serena struck first, claiming the US Open title in 1999 at the age of 17. Venus followed a year later, winning the Open in 2000 and again in 2001, when she defeated her younger sister in New York’s first prime-time women’s final.
And so they have marched into the record books on parallel tracks. As it currently stands, Venus is an all-time great. She has won two US Open titles, five Wimbledon championships and an Olympic gold medal in singles. Serena, meantime, is perhaps the greatest player in tennis history, with an Open era-record 23 Grand Slam singles titles and an Olympic singles gold medal of her own. Impressively, the sisters have been just as formidable as a team, pairing to win three Olympic women's doubles golds and 14 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles.
Even more amazing, at 36 and 35 years old, respectively, the Williams sisters continue to write chapters in the sport’s annals. Just last month, they faced off in the Australian Open women’s singles final – 14 years after first playing on their final Saturday in Melbourne.
Their matchups have become so frequent – they have squared off 28 times in all, nine in a Grand Slam final – that it’s easy to overlook how remarkable their legend is. Don’t make that mistake. Appreciate the greatness of the Williams sisters while they’re still at their peaks – we will never see a story like theirs again.