Professional tennis players. Born September 26, 1981, in Saginaw, Michigan. With her older sister, Venus, Williams took the tennis world by storm beginning in the late 1990s. The sisters harnessed their powerful groundstrokes and booming serves to rise in the rankings in both women’s singles and women’s doubles competitions. Coached by their outspoken father, Richard Williams, Venus and Serena Williams have been credited with raising public awareness of their sport and with bringing the women’s tennis game to a whole new level of power and athleticism. Growing up in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, California, Venus and Serena were the two youngest of five daughters of Richard and Oracene (Brandi) Williams. Richard Williams dreamed of raising tennis stars, and Venus and Serena showed the most aptitude for the game—both began winning tournaments when they were 10 years old. In 1991, the family moved to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where Venus and Serena trained with Rick Macci, who had worked with such teen stars as Jennifer Capriati, and for a short time with Nick Bolletieri, the famed former coach of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles. Soon, however, Richard Williams took over the coaching (and promotional) duties for both his prodigious daughters, choosing to withdraw them completely from the junior tennis circuit so that they could concentrate on their studies. This controversial decision earned him a mixture of praise and criticism among observers of tennis.
After 1994, the World Tennis Association (WTA) did not allow 14-year-olds to compete in all tour events, although “phase-in” clauses allowed some to play in a limited number of events. Venus Williams turned pro in October 1994, before the new rule went into effect.
Serena played in her first professional, non-WTA event, the Bell Challenge in Vanier, Quebec, in October 1995. She played sporadically and did not meet with much individual success until 1997, when her ranking shot up from No. 453 to 304. After Serena beat Mary Pierce and Monica Seles at the Ameritech Cup in Chicago, she jumped to No. 100 in the world. In July 1998, she won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon with Max Mirnyi, and by August she had improved to No. 21.
Serena won her first WTA tour singles victory in early 1999, at the Open Gaz de France in Paris. That win began an incredible season for Serena, in which she won five singles titles in 48 matches. In September 1999, the 17-year-old Serena defeated Hingis in the finals of the U.S. Open, becoming the first African-American woman to capture a Grand Slam singles title since Gibson, who won five Slam events in the late 1950s. The following day, Serena and Venus (who reached the semifinals of the singles draw before losing to Hingis) teamed up to win the doubles title. Both victories took place at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, New York, named for the last African-American to win a major tennis title (Wimbledon in 1975).
In October, Serena beat Venus for the first time, in the finals of the Grand Slam Cup in Munich, Germany. Both Williamses finished the 1999 season ranked in the top five in the world. Still the higher-ranked sister, Venus finished off the 1999 season ranked No. 3 in the world and was the second-highest paid player in terms of prize money (Serena was the third) with career earnings of nearly $4.6 million.
The next year the glory belonged to Venus, although it didn’t appear that way in the beginning. Both sisters got off to a slow start in 2000 due to injuries, and in April Richard Williams announced that his older daughter was contemplating retirement. Just a few months later, however, Venus began a winning streak that took her all the way to Wimbledon, where she grabbed a Grand Slam title of her own, beating both Hingis and Serena (in an emotional semifinal match) before dominating defending champion Davenport in the finals and making some history of her own. Just one day later, Venus and Serena teamed up to win the Wimbledon doubles title, and they later captured the U.S. Open doubles championship.
In the fall of 2000, both Venus and Serena Williams represented the United States at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, alongside Davenport and Monica Seles. Continuing her amazing winning streak, Venus became the only other woman besides Helen Wills Moody in 1924 to capture gold in both singles and doubles (she and Serena won their 22nd straight doubles match in the finals) in the same Olympiad.
Serena had an up-and-down season in 2001, but reached a high point at the U.S. Open in September, where she had commanding victories over Davenport and Hingis in the quarter- and semifinals, respectively. In the finals, she faced her sister Venus in the first meeting of sisters in a Grand Slam final since 1884. Venus' maturity triumphed in the end, however, as she beat Serena in two sets to win her second consecutive Open title.
However, 2002 and 2003 would belong to Serena. The sisters faced off in four consecutive Grand Slam finals, the only siblings in the history of the sport to do so (Serena bested Venus each time). In all, Serena Williams has won eight Grand Slam singles titles and an Olympic gold medal in women's doubles (2000), which she shares with her sister.
Serena defeated Venus in the finals of the French Open, Wimbeldon, and the US Open. The string of victories catapulted the younger sibling to the top of WTA tour rankings, with Venus dropping to second place.
Despite the inevitable rivalry, the Williams sisters remain close friends. Raised as devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, both were home-schooled by their mother, and have received their high school diplomas. In 1999, Serena joined her sister at the Art Institute of Florida, where they studied fashion design. Known for her flamboyant fashion choices on the court, Serena Williams has launched her own line for Puma and Nike, as well as a designer clothing line called Aneres.