Venus and Serena endured hostilities on the court and family troubles
Although the Williams sisters were the two biggest draws in women’s tennis by the time of their 2001 U.S. Open showdown, the path to the top of the mountain hadn’t been entirely smooth.
Years of building resentment over their early successes, alleged aloofness and uneven play against one another had come to a head earlier that year at the Indian Wells tournament in Southern California. After Venus abruptly withdrew from her scheduled semifinal match with Serena because of an injury, the sisters and their father were
roundly booed during Serena’s championship match the following day, with Richard leveling accusations of racial taunting from nearby spectators.
There would be more personal obstacles to overcome. Richard and his wife, Oracene, completed their
divorce in 2002, and the following year, the entire family was left reeling from the shooting death of the oldest Williams sister, Yetunde, in an apparent case of mistaken identity between warring gangs.
After 2004 passed without a Williams sister holding up a Grand Slam trophy for the first time in six years, the duo bounced back to win a combined 16 singles and doubles Grand Slam titles between 2005 and 2010. Additionally, they successfully leveraged the appeal that made them sports’ most famous siblings. Along with teaming up to publish
Venus and Serena: Serving from the Hip in 2005, they became the first female African Americans to claim an ownership stake in an NFL franchise by purchasing a share of the Miami Dolphins in 2009.
Serena, Richard Williams and Venus in 1999.
Photo: MIKE NELSON/AFP via Getty Images The sisters began forging lives away from one another but still remained close
While Venus and Serena remained conjoined in the public eye as a pair of hard-hitting sisters who relished the opportunity to
showcase their fashion sensibilities on the court, each was forging a distinct identity simply through the course of growing up and following her individual goals and desires.
Venus became known for taking the lead on the issue of
equal pay for male and female players. And Serena emerged as more of a pop-culture celebrity, her status burnished by romances with high rollers like Hollywood producer Brett Rattner and rapper Common.
By 2012, Serena had left the tight-knit family circle to seek help from French coach Patrick Mouratoglou. She moved out of the longtime home she shared with Venus the following year. And in 2015, she personally ended the family boycott on Indian Wells by making her
first appearance at the tournament since the ugly events of 2001.
But even as the sisters plowed ahead on their individual paths, there was no rupturing of the airtight bond that had formed during their earliest days in Compton and strengthened through trips to faraway tournaments, media criticism and debilitating illnesses that sidelined both in 2011 – a
pulmonary embolism and hematoma for Serena, and a diagnosis of the autoimmune disorder Sjogren’s Syndrome for Venus.
“Love is, I think, one of the strongest things that you can have,” Serena told
in 2014. “I have a sister, and she knows exactly what I’m going through. She knows everything about me. She is the only person I can really talk to after I lose, because only she knows how I feel. Nobody else. They can feel, they can try, but they’re just not on that level. Only she understands it.”
Proving that family ties were stronger than personal grudges, Venus again followed the example of her younger sister and
ended her own boycott of Indian Wells in 2016. Later that year, she and Serena returned to Compton to launch the Yetunde Price Resource Center in honor of their slain sister. Their intense matches continued into the later stages of their careers
By that point, it was clear that Richard Williams was correct in his early appraisal of his daughters’ championship potential. Venus dipped in and out of the Top 10 during the 2010s while Serena kept winning at a historic pace, including a defeat of her big sister at the 2017 Australian Open to set a modern record with her 23rd Grand Slam singles title.
But while Serena could lay claim to being the greatest of all time, her matches against Venus remained a difficult grind for both. “She’s the toughest player I’ve ever played in my life, and the best person I know,” Serena
said, following their quarterfinal match at the 2015 U.S. Open. “So it’s going against your best friend and at the same time for me going against the greatest competitor in women’s tennis.”
Meanwhile, their relationship remained virtually the same through continued changes to their lives. After Serena had
daughter Olympia with tech entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian in 2017, she gushed to Today about Venus’s talents as an aunt. Serena also turned to big sister’s interior design firm, V Starr, to take charge of renovating the south Florida home she shared with her husband and daughter, a task that was completed by summer 2020.
Around the same time, the coronavirus pandemic had upended everyone’s lives. The sisters sought to bring a little more joy to their fans by leading
online workout sessions, though they especially welcomed a return to normalcy with a match against one another at the August 2020 Top Seed Open.
31st head-to-head encounter of their professional careers produced yet another two-hour-plus slugfest that ended with a Serena win and, according to , “a long, mutually weary look after the duel.” The New York Times
Just another shared moment of understanding between these rivals and soulmates after four decades together, with a countless number to come as they inch toward the end of their careers and the adventures beyond.