“Thank Heaven for little girls, they grow up in the most delightful ways,” sings Maurice Chevalier in the classic movie ‘Gigi’. A most appropriate tribute song for tennis sisters Venus and Serena, only that refrain is best edited to…”they grow up in the most ‘winning’ ways.”
(Video of the song can be found at the bottom of this post.)
This story is about the time a man with a vision who saw it through to total fulfilment‼ Richard Williams, the father of tennis phenoms Venus and Serena, made the successful journey from a man who self-taught himself tennis fundamentals and then developed two Tennis Champions who changed the women’s game.
While only youngsters, the tennis world was swirling with rumblings about their athletic ability…
but only Father knew best about their champion acumen.
Early on Richards describes Venus as a Champion-To-Be, he said: “…she possesses the four qualities all champions have naturally – Rough, Tough, Strong; and mentally, unbelievably Sound.”
Yet he reserved speaking of greatness for his comments about Serena. Father Richard predicted her tenacity would enable her to soar: “…so strong, once she gets a hold of you she never let’s go and plays with anger better than any athlete‼
Watch and listen to the Williams Sisters, though adolescents, speak boldly and clearly of their dreams. Venus at the time only 12 had won all 63 of her junior tennis matches.
And not to be outdone in accomplishments 11-year-old little sister Serena had claimed victory in all but two of her 52 matches.
Let’s speak of dreams…the dream of Venus then was to win the title on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon; and, for Serena, the desire to lift the trophy at the grand slam of her home country, the US Open.
The rest is a kind of amazing history, the achievement of both an America Dream along with a father’s belief he had champions-in-the making…still being played out, before our very delightful eyes. The sisters now in their 30s, continue to stun the tennis establishment and fans the world over.
For now…let’s go back to the time of the beginning of the careers of Venus and Serena Williams – two little girls from Compton – and their musings as they look to the future:
AND THANK HEAVEN FOR VENUS AND SERENA WILLIAMS…
and all joy they’ve given to us on court, bringing excellence in every match, and a reality that dreams matched with drive do come true‼ Now time to share that musical moment from one of my favorite movies – ‘Gigi’:
About Indian Wells, the scene of the crime, the two sisters who have doubled as America’s top two tennis players for almost two decades, have reached a divide. Serena announcing that she is releasing herself from the vow of never playing the tournament again; to date elder sister Venus has made no such move.
What is not lost on me is that Venus Ebony Star Williams was the first African American woman to ever hold the title of World Number One. And like Althea Gibson, the first Black woman to win Wimbledon in 1957, she was out there in the ‘lily-white’ tennis world all alone. When Venus 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.” Trust me, considering the non-politically correct racial climate that was status quo then, it was definitely one of the mildest attacks Venus faced.
Years ago in an appearance with her sister Serena on Oprah, Venus responded when questioned about racial discrimination in the locker room, in terms of how the other players treated her. She paused and reflected before a brief mention of how they – the ‘little darlings’ as the tennis media dubbed female players of the “country-club” sport then – were leaving nasty/dirty underwear by her locker. I have no words!
Not surprising to me that after the sum total of her experience on tour leading up to Indian Wells; seven years after it happened, this is a comment from Venus:
“I never even thought about actually playing because it was unfathomable for me to return to those circumstances.”
The year is 2001, a leg injury has forced Venus Williams to pull out of a semifinal match against her sister. Indian Wells tournament officials make no announcement until only minutes before the match. During the final, younger sister Serena is in a face-off with Kim Clijsters. She is roundly booed on the court and after winning, during the victory ceremony as well.
All the while Venus and her father face a ‘lynch mob’ like atmosphere in which they are heckled, jeered and called racial epithets in the stands – where they determinedly stay, as they’re presence represents support of their daughter/sister.
Tensions is so thick that Pam Schriver whom I’m watching on ESPN, reports live that the ushers were told in advance to be on guard for trouble in the stands.
While being heckled by the crowd, Richard Williams is seen on his cellular phone. Minutes later, a security guard appears by the friends’ box a couple of games into the match. (From a New York Times column written by Selena Roberts) His only visible reaction to the 15,000 fans in this disdainful crowd is a raised fist, reminiscent of The 1968 Olympics Black Power salute was an act of protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos while the American National Athem played during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics in the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City.
Serena managed to win and voiced quite a prophetic message: ”I won a big battle today mentally, I think a champion can come through.” Though victorious, the entire horrifying experience brought the champion to tears and running to the arms of her protective father once the match concluded.
The entire situation harkens back to the disturbing dark days of Jim Crow. Denial, though not surprising, is quite baffling from a country with a history of three centuries of enslaving Africans and who’s cherished Constitution granted those of African descent only 3/5th humanity.
Disbelievers need to remember Indian Wells tournament director Charlie Pasarell also is quoted in a USA Today article nine days after the Indian Wells final:
“I was cringing when all that stuff was going on. It was unfair for the crowd to do that.”
And disbelievers need too revisit the assessment of then WTA Chair and CEO Larry Scott. After he had watched a tape of the match, conducted interviews and held discussions with the Williams sisters and their family, below are his remarks:
“Having watched it myself, it was one of the harshest environments I’ve seen a player have to be in,” Scott said. “It was a unique situation and one that obviously runs deep for Serena and for Venus.
Serena’s recently announced that she is returning to competition at Indian Wells, after a 14 years of letting her absence do the talking; About ending her boycott now Serena says:
I play for the love of the game. And it is with that love in mind, and a new understanding of the true meaning of forgiveness, that I will proudly return to Indian Wells in 2015.
Georgetown professor and author Dr. Michael Eric Dyson speaking with Dave Zirin of The Nation framed Serena’s decision as “…the majestic arc of forgiveness in black life that has helped to redeem America.” He added:
I applaud Serena for marrying her return to the cause of Justice; partnering with the noble work of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI): by operating a fundraising campaign in advance of the tournament. Details Here:→http://www.omaze.com/experiences/serena-williams:
More about the Cause for Justice Serena is supporting:
EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE
a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that works with communities that have been marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment. EJI provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system.
Venus Williams to date…remains silent on Indian Wells.
Silence was not the case in 2008. Venus in the self-assured, clear and concise manner that she is known for, shared her thoughts on the vow never to play that tournament again.
It happened during an interview about the WTA Tour’s impending plan to institute a policy designating four tournaments, outside the Grand Slam events, as ‘mandatory’ for the tour’s top players; with non-compliance resulting in potential penalties such as no rankings points, fines and possible suspensions.
Venus Williams stated she appreciated that the tour was attempting to create a sustainable business model, attractive to sponsors, television and fans; and had more to say:
“Everybody has been on board with that, including Serena and I,” Venus said yesterday. “But we have had a problem at Indian Wells and we’ve chosen over the years not to play because of those issues, and emotionally we don’t want to be there. It would be too stressful for us emotionally, it wouldn’t be about the tennis — at all.”
Though the final sanction decision was up to the WTA Board, kudos to Larry Scott (adviser to the board) for choosing to engage in discussions with Venus and Serena about the matter in its entirety. Venus conveyed to him that the boycott is about Indian Wells and not about tennis.
“It’s not about not doing our best for the sport,” Venus Williams said. “We have a legitimate issue here, and it’s something we’ve all been dealing with over the years. But ultimately, Sis and I psychologically cannot play at Indian Wells.”
She added: “We try to be there for the fans who keep us in the game and allow us to do what we want to do,
but for us, it’s just not an option to play because of what we went through as a family.
As a long-term devoted fan of the William sisters and their ‘Agape Love’ family, I respect whatever position each individually holds regarding the place where tennis fans disgraced America – Indian Wells.
And equally ‘disgraceful’ is this truth – the tennis establishment ( WTA, USTA, ESPN Tennis and especially the current tournament officials of what was previously called Indian Wells) have yet to publicly apologize to the two wronged tennis champions, Venus and Serena, and their family!
Two Black women who changed the game, who represent the worldwide sport in grande fashion; and who are still playing well in their 30s – we should cherish them. Again I submit this message to the Tennis Establishment – an APOLOGY is not only warranted – it’s long overdue!
“We feel like we’ve contributed to our country in a huge way,” Serena joyfully shared in speaking about their two doubles Olympic Gold Medals (2000 and 2008).
“We’re the defending champion and we want to defend our title and I don’t see why we wouldn’t,” Serena said of the London Games. “This (December 3 Exhibition in Milan) is a good preview to the Olympics, we both want to play. So this is a great, great time for us, so exciting.”
Tennis fans we are totally aware of the Williams Sister’s FAMILY TRADITION of playing together as a doubles team that goes for and WINS OLYMPIC GOLD. After excelling with two amazing victories at the 2000 Sydney and 2008 Beijing Gamesh. Serena and Venus are eager to go for their third Olympic gold together. The pair didn’t enter the doubles competition in Athens four years ago because Serena was injured at the time.
HISTORY IN OLYMPIC COMPETITION
Serena will be making her third Olympic appearance having won a gold medal in women’s doubles at the 2000 and 2008 Olympic Games with sister, Venus, becoming the first set of siblings to win Olympic gold.
This is also the third Olympic appearance for Venus Williams. She won the singles Olympic Gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. When Venus won two Gold Medals in doubles competition at the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, where she teamed with her sister. Joining Helen Wills in 1924 as the only player to sweep both titles at the same Olympiad by having won a gold medal in both women’s singles and women’s doubles at the 2000 Olympic Games.
Serena and sister Venus are eager to go for their third Olympic gold together.
“To share this kind of moment with your sister,” Venus said, “it never grows old.”
“I don’t know anyone out there who would get tired of playing with Venus Williams,” said the Serena.
SPECIAL MOMENT FROM THE 2008 OLYMPICS When the red carpet was rolled out on center court, the sisters climbed the medal podium together holding hands. A beaming Venus bobbed her head to the beat as “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played. That’s really what it’s all about. America’s best – no doubt – The Williams Sister Rock!