Why Venus and Serena Williams did not play much junior tennis despite their early success
Serena Williams and Venus Williams are two of the most popular tennis players on the planet. The dynamic duo have been hugely successful over the years, winning 14 doubles Grand Slams together as well as 30 singles and four mixed doubles Majors.
For all their success on the WTA tour, it's surprising that neither Williams sister has a Junior Major to their name. They also failed to win the Orange Bowl, the premier junior tennis tournament that introduced the world to Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Chris Evert among many others.
It wasn't for lack of talent at a young age, but rather by design -- their father Richard Williams' design, to be precise. Just as the Americans were starting to tear up the junior circuit, Richard Williams decided to pull his daughters out of tennis and have them focus on their education instead.
Richard arrived at the decision when Venus Williams was 11 years old and Serena Williams was 10. At the time, the elder Williams was 63-0 on the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Junior Tour and was ranked No. 1 in the under-12 category in Southern California.
Serena, on the other hand, had a slightly less impressive record, winning 46 out of 49 matches. Like her sister, the former World No. 1 was also ranked No. 1, but in the under-10 category in Florida.
Both sisters turned professional at the very young age of 14. Venus Williams played only one event in 1994, losing to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the second round of the Bank of the West Classic. The now-41-year-old had to wait three more years to play her maiden Grand Slam, at the 1997 French Open.
Serena Williams, meanwhile, made her debut at the 1995 Challenge Bell, losing in the first round of qualifying to seventh seed Anne Miller. The 40-year-old also had to wait three years to play her maiden Grand Slam, doing so at the 1998 Australian Open.
Speaking in an interview a few years later, Richard Williams justified his decision to have his daughters focus on education, saying that he never intended for them to think that tennis was their only "way out." Instead, he wanted them to remember that they had to be well-educated so that they could serve as role models for others in the years to come.
"Too many black athletes think sports is the only way out," Richard Williams said. "But sports is a vehicle to get an education. I'm looking for my kids to be well balanced. I want them to be role models, but athletes are not great role models. I want to see them develop their education with their tennis."
"For some people, I think it's smart to play juniors, fortunately enough, we were able to manage" - Serena Williams
Serena Williams agreed with her father's assessment in a later interview. She was grateful to him for having the vision to advance his daughters' careers in the best way he thought possible.
But in the same breath, the 23-time Grand Slam champion admitted that it might not be the best course of action for everyone. Williams remarked that playing a lot of junior tennis could help with both sponsorship and getting noticed by coaches.
As for her and her sister's success despite going against conventional wisdom, the former World No. 1 was of the opinion that it was just a stroke of good fortune.
"It's a lot of factors. My dad was a great coach and he's just such a great thinker. He just had this whole vision. So what I'm saying is if you don't play juniors, it's hard for people to see you and get sponsorship, and tennis can be expensive. For some people, I think it's smart to play juniors," Serena Williams said. "People can see your level and you can have some help in terms of traveling and getting coaches and things of that nature. Fortunately enough, we were able to manage."
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