Serena and Venus Williams’ biopic recently grabbed headlines as it premiered in theaters nationwide. Centering around their father, Richard Williams, the film’s release prompted one of his children from his first marriage to share an unflattering backstory.
Sisters Serena and Venus Williams are superstar athletes who took the world of tennis by storm when they were just teens. Fast forward to today, they have combined 122 singles titles, including 30 Grand Slam singles.
Their exceptional tennis skills also earned them a staggering fortune. Their combined prize money won amounted to over $175 million, making them among the wealthiest athletes in the world.
Serena and Venus Williams attend the 2021 AFI Fest: Closing Night Premiere of Warner Bros. “King Richard” on November 14, 2021 in Hollywood, California. | Photo: Getty Images
Both competitive, the sisters were also rivals on the court. In 1998, Venus, then 17, and Serena, 16, competed against each other in what has become an unforgettable match at the Australian Open.
Venus overpowered her younger sister, winning the match in straight sets. She continued her winning streak during their rematch at the Italian Open. By then, all eyes were on them.
The then-young tennis prodigies went on to win one championship after another, sometimes as teammates. Together, they have bagged 22 doubles titles, including 14 from Grand Slam competitions.
Serena Williams and her sister Venus takes a break while playing tennis in Florida in 1992. | Photo: Getty Images
Serena was not shy to admit that she revered her older sister so much that she would copy her in many aspects. In the 2012 documentary “Venus and Williams,” she said:
“I mean, her favorite color was my favorite color, her favorite animal was my favorite animal, she wanted to win Wimbledon, I wanted to win Wimbledon.”
Nonetheless, Serena became the first Williams to score a Grand Slam singles victory at the 1999 U.S. Open after defeating Swiss player Martina Hingis.
JEALOUS OVER SERENA’S WIN
Venus admitted that her sister’s historic triumph at the 1999 U.S. Open was tough for her, mainly because she felt she should have stepped up and done more to win the title, being the older sister.
Soon enough, both sisters began to attract national attention as young tennis prodigies.
She said it was a defining moment to which she didn’t know how to react. “Am I going to learn from her example, or am I going to crumble?” she said in the 2012 documentary “Venus and Serena.”
Venus and Serena’s desire for greatness came from their father, Richard Williams, who trained the sisters in tennis after realizing they could potentially make a fortune from the sports.
Richard was watching TV at their home in Long Beach, California, when he saw a broadcast about the French Open. The $40,000 prize money caught his attention, not so much the player’s athleticism.
From that day on, he became determined to teach himself tennis and raise future tennis champions. He began by teaching himself and his wife to play tennis, so they could later pass the skills on to their children.
While he was not trained in tennis, the world of sports was nothing new to Richard, who played football in Shreveport during his younger days. He had the discipline and athleticism to learn a new sport quickly.
Besides Venus and Serena, he also taught his stepchildren from his wife Oracene’s previous marriage. However, he saw that her daughters displayed excellent skills to become world tennis champions.
Soon enough, both sisters began to attract national attention as young tennis prodigies. But during this time, it was Venus who had more wins under her belt.
Venus and Serena Williams with their mother, Oracene, poses after a graduation ceremony at Institute of Fort Lauderdale on December 13, 2007 in Florida. | Photo: Getty Images
By the age of 11, Venus was already smashing the ball at speeds of nearly 100 mph. The following year, she won every 63 USTA sectional matches. By then, it was clear she was a tennis star in the making.
It’s no surprise filmmakers would be delighted to create a biopic about the sisters and their father. Actor and film producer Will Smith was lucky to have received Venus and Serena’s blessings for the biopic “King Richard.”
Recently, Will, who co-produced the film and played Richard in it, shared how the sisters did not immediately give her their blessing for the movie.
Will revealed that Venus and Serena waited until they watched the film before deciding to put their names on it. The actor admitted that watching the movie with them was nerve-wracking.
But he was relieved because the iconic sisters loved the film, which moved them to tears. As for their father, Will only had good words about him. He was astounded by his prophetic determination.
One of the things that struck him about Richard was how he drew up a 78-page plan to make Venus and Serena world tennis champions and how he already predicted it would happen even before his daughters were born.
Just as the biopic hit theaters, family drama arose after Venus and Serena’s half-sister Sabrina Williams, a hospice chaplain, made a public rant about her estranged father. Sabrina alleged that Richard ignored his first family.
Sabrina was eight years old when Richard, his then stepdad, left his mom and their five children. He never returned after allegedly leaving the house to buy her a bike.
When Sabrina’s late mom battled cancer in 1998 and the family was cash-strapped, Richard did not offer help with medical care. Sabrina said she has only seen him a handful of times.
Although she went through enormous hardships growing up, Sabrina said she would never swap lives with Venus and Serena. While the tennis stars conquered the world, Richard’s other children struggled to survive after he left, said Sabrina.
She also shared that she only met Venus and Serena once when the tennis players were teenagers. Their chance meeting happened at a theme park in California.
Sabrina said she might not be able to meet her famous half-sisters again. But she wished she would be able to meet Serena’s daughter Olympia, whom she found adorable.
Venus Williams looks at father Richard hugging Serena after the Ladies’ Singles final match at Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships on July 7, 2012, in London, England. | Photo: Getty Images
As for her father, Sabrina said while Richard was never a good dad to her, he has stopped putting all the blame on him, especially after she went to counseling and became a better person.
Meanwhile, in 2018, Richard, said he could hardly speak after suffering two strokes. At the time, he was also embroiled in a legal battle after his estranged wife Lakeisha Graham allegedly forged his signature to take his home.
Richard Williams and Lakeisha Graham visit the SiriusXM Studios on May 6, 2014 in New York City. | Photo: Getty Images
To add to their family drama, the man who killed Richard’s stepdaughter Yetunde Price was released on parole that year. Yetunde was fatally shot in 2003 by Robert Edward Maxfield, who shot at the vehicle she rode in while seeking revenge on a gang.
Serena admitted she was distracted after the news broke out just minutes before her match at Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, which she lost. She said Yetunde’s death impacted her so much, knowing she had three children at the time of her death.