2016 has seen the return of the Williams sisters back to their dominant best at Wimbledon. Serena eased to the final aiming for the most Grand Slams ever, and Venus reached the semi-final. The two sisters have been huge forces in women’s tennis in the last 15 years and at the ripe old ages of 34 and 36 show no sign of finishing anytime soon. Serena especially! There is always comments on how and why they are so good, and most of the answers comes down to their natural abilities and physiques. There are however some elements that could be the secret to their many successes that are less obvious.
Richard Williams and Orecene Price are arguably the most successful sporting parents ever. From humble beginnings in Compton the parents have planned and implemented incredible success for their family through Venus and Serena. The success has also bred and incredible closeness between the two sisters. Better than when they first burst onto the scene as teenagers arguably. Richard Williams coached them from a young age and plotted their rise and his own personal drive was passed onto his daughters.
Orecene had a less Tennis focused effect, but arguably one just as big. In the 1980’s she converted to become a Jehovah’s Witness and her daughters all joined her. Serena claims to have taken strength in Tennis from her faith. At last year’s Australian Open she told the crowd after receiving her sixth trophy there “I have to thank Jehovah God for this. I was down and out and he helped me today and I just said prayers, not to win but to be strong and to be healthy and in the end I was able to come through so I have to give the glory to him first and foremost.” In 2003 her sister Yetande was shot and killed. Serena said she became incredibly close to her faith during the period. She has taken the same faith into her tennis and applied its coping mechanism to her career when she has had threatening injuries, hematoma and embolism surgery or intense media pressure over her actions and appearances.
Tennis is not all physical and if you look past the obvious strength of the sisters you will see a firm base in their psychology too. An early coach Bill Murray (no relation) said that when Richard Williams brought the girls to him he was told to concentrate on the technique only and the father will deal with the minds. “He would take them to where the underprivileged Americans were living and while pointing at them would say to them: ‘Society got them to be like that. Society wants you to be like them and if you are not successful here you will be like them’,” Murray said.
A big change during their careers has been the diagnosis of Venus with Sjorgens Syndrome. The illness of the immune system was diagnosed in 2011 and Venus made a change to a Vegan diet. It is designed to decrease inflammation in her body and reduce the energy-sapping symptoms of the disease by not overloading her body with excess calories, pesticides or sugars. Serena converted to the same diet in solidarity with her sister too. This diet could be the reason they have had such an elongated career, especially when you consider how young they started. Serena is in line to win a record equalling number of grand slams and perhaps the diet has allowed her to stay in the game long enough to do this.
So the Williams sisters will surely hear more comments about their physique or clichés about power over other women, but the truth is, is there is a lot more about the Williams sisters than a big serve.