What does it take to be a winner? Most people would say it takes talent, faith, and hard work. What does it take to be a tennis superstar? In Venus Williams's case, it helped that she had determined parents. Richard Williams decided before his children were born that that they would be tennis stars.
The tiny girl was a star from the time she came in to the world on June 17, 1980. She had a stellar name: Venus Ebony Starr Williams. As it happened, Venus was born with great natural ability. She never counted on that alone, however, to win.
Since she was small, Venus has been willing to put lots and lots of sweat into her efforts. When she was only four, she and her family lived in the Watts area of Los Angeles, California. The public tennis courts there were crumbling and battered. Still, Venus and her father spent time each day at the courts. For hours, the small girl swatted balls.
Along with skill and strength, Venus practiced believing in herself. She later said: "Some people say I have attitude. Maybe I do but I think you have to. You have to believe in yourself when no one else does. That makes you a winner right there."
It was clear from the start that Venus had a special ability and heart. Tennis pro John McEnroe and future great Pete Sampras heard about the young marvel. When Venus was eight years old, they came to see for themselves. The three players swatted a few balls over the net. The two men were impressed. Even then, Venus was confident. She could have beaten McEnroe, she said, if it hadn't been for a few unlucky bounces.
Venus's talent went beyond tennis. In track, she was a flash of speed. Her father wondered if he'd nudged his daughter in the wrong direction. Still, Venus pursued tennis. She trained hard and practiced faithfully. Beside her, working just as hard, was her younger sister Serena. Serena's abilities promised to match her sister's.
When Venus was 12, the family moved to Florida. The Williams girls enrolled in an intensive tennis academy. Besides a regular school schedule, they worked six hours a day at tennis. Saturdays were also devoted to practice. During their four years at the academy, Venus turned pro. She won her first pro tournament at 14.
Though her career was barely started, Venus had caught the eye of the sports world. Her first major endorsement, a $12 million deal with Reebok, fell into her lap at the age of 15. At 17, she became the first unseeded player to reach the finals of the U.S. Open in nearly 20 years.
In 1998, Venus faced a familiar opponent across the net. She beat her sister Serena in the Australian Open. That year Venus was 18. At a contest in Switzerland, her serve was clocked at 127.4 miles per hour. It was the fastest serve by a woman ever recorded. After Venus won the singles title in Oklahoma City, the two sisters played together to win in doubles.