"We Will Be Number One": The Real Story of the Father of Tennis' Most Successful Sisters

"We Will Be Number One": The Real Story of the Father of Tennis' Most Successful Sisters

Although vividly portrayed in the successful film "King Richard" starring Will Smith, the true image of the father of Venus and Serena Williams is not entirely identical to what the movie depicts. Released late last year, the film "King Richard" earned Will Smith a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar for one of his outstanding performances. However, the real-life portrayal of the father - Richard Williams - differs somewhat from the embellished depiction in "King Richard."

A notable difference is that Richard, in real life, went even further than the movie to lead his daughters to glory.

The Birth of Two Legends

In 1978, while watching TV and seeing Virginia Ruzici win the French Open, earning over $20,000 in prize money, Richard turned to his wife Oracene with a proposal. He suggested that they have more children and turn them into tennis players. This may be the famous story that contributed to the birth of the two Williams sisters. In reality, at that time, Oracene already had three children from a previous marriage and did not want any more.

However, Richard was determined to the point of causing controversy. "I took my wife on a date and would secretly discard her birth control pills," Richard said in an interview with Today. That's how the older sister, Venus, was born. On the second occasion, Richard persuaded a friend of Oracene to "steal" her purse containing contraceptives, leading to the legendary tennis player Serena being born just over a year after her sister.

In 1980, when Venus was born, Richard and Oracene were living in an upscale house just a block away from the ocean in beautiful Long Beach, California.

Richard, who owned a private security company, decided to move the entire family to Compton, an area of Los Angeles known for crime and gangs, believing it would instill a "warrior mentality" in his daughters. "Playing in front of thousands of white people will be much easier if the two have learned to play in front of a bunch of gang members," he pointed out in his 2014 book, "Black And White: The Way I See It."

Oracene opposed the move, worrying about the safety of their children, but Richard said he would go without her. Eventually, Oracene agreed. At that time, Venus was not yet 3 years old, and Serena was not yet 2.

Harsh Parenting Methods

Richard wanted his two daughters to become "tough, resilient, and strong," but even he began to wonder if he had made a mistake by moving to Compton, where the family was "stuck in daily gunfights."

Despite realizing early on that he was living in "hell," Richard still decided to stay and raise his two daughters to success. When Venus was 3 and Serena was 2, he had them go door-to-door selling phone directories to make money. This led to criticism from many neighbors about his harsh parenting methods.

When Venus turned 5, Richard - who learned how to play tennis just to be able to teach his daughters - began teaching her to play. Their training ground was deserted areas, filled with the remnants of vice and broken glass. However, this action irritated local gangs, leading to an altercation in which Richard lost up to 10 teeth. Nevertheless, he later said he still wore dentures as a symbol of courage.

Eventually, things took a 180-degree turn. Former Compton council member Patricia Moore told CNN that gang members were "awesome" in how they looked out for the two sisters, ensuring no one could disturb their training. Richard also had some other "tricks." Rick Macci, who trained Venus and Serena when they were young, recalled how Richard used pieces of broken glass on the court to prevent his daughters from retreating too far during practice. "There were times Richard would put pieces of broken glass on the court," he told The Sun. To avoid stepping on the glass, the two sisters had to avoid retreating too far and could retrieve the ball early.

Richard also did not allow his daughters to have boyfriends, "and to prevent any urges to become a mother early, Richard would smash the heads of any dolls Venus brought home." The plan to turn Venus and Serena into tennis champions was a spectacular success, with the two sisters winning a total of 30 Grand Slam singles titles. However, the decision to move the entire family to Compton in the early 1980s led to a tragic consequence.

Oracene's eldest daughter, Yetunde, stayed in Compton, working as a nurse and caring for her three children. While chatting with her boyfriend in a car one night in 2003, she was killed by a gang member. The incident occurred right across from the tennis court where the sisters and her half-siblings were learning to play tennis.

Serena said she cried when she saw the character of Yetunde on the screen in "King Richard."

However, for many, Richard remains an extremely tough father in protecting his children. Will Smith recalled a live interview with Venus when she was 13-14 years old, during which Richard shouted at a reporter. The expression on the little girl's face at the time moved Will, and he said that was exactly how he wanted his daughter to look at him when he appeared.

"There would be no Venus and Serena if there was no Richard."

No one really knows what Richard thinks of the movie or Will Smith's portrayal of him. After the tumultuous breakup with his third wife - Lakeisha Graham, he suffered a series of strokes, memory loss, and speech impairment.

But for Serena, she still appreciates her father's unique parenting style with both her and her sister, understanding why Will Smith chose her father as the central figure of the film.

"My dad is a great man - I should say a great man - and I think he was ahead of his time," she told Refinery29.

"There would be no Venus and Serena if there was no Richard," the tennis legend concluded.

Previous Post Next Post