With her younger sister, Serena, 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, the Williams sisters 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 Williams 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. Her first tournament was the Bank of the West Classic in Oakland, California, where she showed a good deal of promise in a loss to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, then ranked No. 2 in the world. For her first two years on the pro tour, Venus stayed out of the limelight and kept up with her high school studies, not making her debut at a Grand Slam until the 1997 French Open. At that year’s U.S. Open, she became the first unseeded woman ever to reach the tournament’s final, and the first African-American woman to do so since Althea Gibson won back-to-back championships in 1957 and 1958. Though Venus lost to Switzerland’s Martina Hingis, the 17-year-old No. 1-ranked player in the world, in the finals, she saw her own ranking shoot up from No. 66 to No. 25 in only one day.
Venus started out the 1998 season well, beating Hingis in a tournament in Sydney, Australia, and reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open (defeating her younger sister on the way). Though she lost to Lindsay Davenport in the singles draw, Venus teamed up with Justin Gimelstob to win the mixed doubles championship. She won her first WTA singles title at the IGA Tennis Classic in March and went on to score a big win at the Lipton International, defeating Anna Kournikova of Russia (another of tennis’ highly-touted up-and-comers) and Hingis. The Lipton win propelled Venus into the top 10. She finished 1998 with a great record in the Grand Slams, reaching the quarterfinals of the French Open and Wimbledon and the semifinals of the U.S. Open.
Despite her impressive record and growing confidence, Venus had yet to achieve the accolade she had dreamed about her whole life: a Grand Slam victory. Her younger sister, Serena, whom their father had once claimed would be the better player of the two, reached that goal first, when she won the 1999 U.S. Open.
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.
On September 9, 2000, Venus Williams met Davenport again in the finals of the U.S. Open, where she won her 26th straight match and became the first woman since Hingis in 1997 to win two Grand Slam titles in one year. She and Serena also captured the doubles title.
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.
In July 2001, Williams successfully defended her Wimbledon title, beating Davenport in the semifinal and the Belgian player Justine Henin in the finals. She had an even more eventful U.S. Open, beating the resurgent Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals before facing Serena in the finals, the first meeting of sisters in a Grand Slam final since 1884. Venus' maturity served her well in the all-Williams matchup, as she beat Serena in two sets to win her second consecutive Open title.
However, 2002 and 2003 would belong to Serena. Serena defeated Venus in the finals of the French Open, Wimbeldon, and US Open in 2002. The string of victories catapulted the younger sibling to the top of WTA tour rankings, with Venus dropping to second in the standings. Serena also defeated Venus in the Wimbledon final of 2003. After a less successful 2003 and 2004, at the start of 2005 she was ranked ninth but came back to form to win the Wimbledon singles title for a third time. It was the longest Wimbledon final in history and Wiliams was the lowest seed to win the women's singles title ever. During the 2006 season,Williams was plagued by injuries and she failed to win any significant matches.
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. Venus is now the CEO of her own interior design firm, V Starr Interiors