Former World No. 1s in both the singles and doubles, Venus and younger sister Serena Williams have, over the years, firmly entrenched their names in tennis history, and it is not without reason that Serena, who has 22 Grand Slam titles – an Open Era record – and looks in form enough to win more, is considered one of the greatest to have ever played the sport.
Now, the iconic sisters have seen two tennis courts at Lueders Park in their hometown of Compton, California, named in their honour; the courts will now be called the Venus and Serena Williams Court of Champions.
It is no secret that the sisters faced significant hurdles in growing up and furthering their tennis careers. The sisters’ struggles with racism are well-documented, and the pair, who were moved by father Richard Price to Florida to continue tennis training, were even as young as 5 and 6 years old called racial slurs, which at one point got so severe that their father was forced to temporarily withdraw them from training.
The Williams family – father Richard Williams, mother Oracene Price and Serena and Venus’ older half-sibling Yetunde Price, moved to Compton when Serena and Venus were both very young. Although the two youngest sisters at that time moved to Palm Beach, Florida to train in tennis full-time years later, their earliest connections are with Compton, California, where their older sister Yetunde Price was tragically shot and killed in a drive-by shooting in 2003; the town is unfortunately rife with gang violence that the sisters also had to face in addition to racial abuse.
In a poignant anecdote, the sisters, who are otherwise tight-lipped about their personal lives, have spoken of old friends from the town who used to protect them from racial profiling; Serena Williams would later go on to invite the friends to Wimbledon to watch the sisters play.
Inaugurated at Lueders Park, the court, which is near the sisters’ childhood home, has now been christened the Venus and Serena Williams Court of Champions. Younger sister Serena described the experience as “surreal”, lauding the fact that coaching had been made available for the children of the city. A drill team and marching band from the local high school also performed for the sisters, who were guests of honour in the city.
Serena and Venus Williams overcame significant barriers in their own lives, and in their tennis successes became icons for not only the sport but idols in the African-American movement.
34-year-old Serena, who has equalled or beaten almost every record in the modern-day sport, has been subject to racial, sexist slurs and abuse over what can only be regarded as the most successful tennis career of all time, and only recently lost her World No. 1 title – only to firmly hold on to World no. 2 nearly two decades on from beginning her professional career.
Accompanied by their mother Oracene Price, the sisters are also steamrolling – and funding – the Yetunde Price Resource Centre, which is meant to help residents of the town afflicted by violence with resources, and was founded in memory of their sister, who fell victim to a drive-by shooting in 2003.