Happy Birthday

Venus Williams
Seth Wenig/AP

Happy Birthday, Venus Williams, Tennis Star

June 17, 2010
by Sarah Amandolare
Twenty-one Grand Slam titles, two Olympic gold medals and a host of other tournament wins make Venus Williams one of the most recognizable figures in professional tennis. Yet her resume off the court is nearly as impressive. She’s launched her own line of clothing, founded an interior design company and has been named one of America’s most powerful women by Ladies Home Journal.

Venus Williams’ Early Days

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Venus Williams was born June 17, 1980, in Lynwood, California, to Richard and Oracene Williams. Oracene had three daughters from a previous marriage and did not want to have more. However, according to a family legend, Richard, wanting to have daughters to raise as tennis champions, hid Oracene’s contraceptive pills, leading to the birth of Venus and her younger sister Serena.

Growing up in Compton, a suburb of Los Angeles, the Williams sisters displayed talent as they “practiced with dead balls on cracked courts,” wrote Sports Illustrated. By age 10, Venus was winning tournaments, and in 1991, the Williams clan relocated to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where the young phenoms began training with renowned coach Rick Macci.

The sisters’ careers were carefully managed by Richard, who withdrew them from junior tennis school. Though he said that girls shouldn’t be playing professional as young teens, he allowed Venus to turn pro at age 14.

Venus’ Tennis Career

Venus played her first full season on the WTA Tour in 1997. At the U.S. Open, she made a surprising run to the final that was marred by accusations of racism made by—and then toward—her father.

“Suddenly, tennis had a brilliant new talent—witty, intelligent and charismatic—a streetwise child of gang-plagued Compton, Calif., who could well be sports' next Tiger Woods,” wrote S.L. in Sports Illustrated.

Williams won her first pro tournament a year later
and the following year won two grand slams. She and Serena became two of the tour’s top players, and also formed one of the best doubles teams. In 2002, Venus became the No. 1 ranked women’s player in the world, the first African-American to achieve that status.

Williams has thus far won seven grand slam tournaments: two U.S. Open titles and five Wimbledon titles. At 29, she remains one of the best players on the women’s tour.

The Rest of the Story

Off the court, Venus Williams studied fashion design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. In November 2007, she launched a discount line of sporty clothing and accessories, including tennis sneakers, called EleVen. “I’ve always wanted to do clothes that are accessible to everyone,” she said.

She and Serena founded the Venus and Serena Williams Tutorial/Tennis Academy in Los Angeles, providing tennis lessons to inner-city children. The academy provides not only on-court instruction, but also tutoring and assistance in applying to colleges.
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