Serena Williams

Serena Williams has become one of the most exciting and closely watched players in tennis. Alongside Venus, her older sister, she forms half of a prodigal tennis pairing that has been stealing headlines for all the right reasons.  

Serena Williams was born in Saginaw, Michigan, on the 26th September, 1981, the youngest of 5 sisters. Richard and Oracene Williams raised their family in Compton, a violent Los Angeles suburb. Serena's father was very keen for his daughters to become professional tennis players, and so encouraged the young sisters to start playing from an early age.

Her early training took place on Compton's public tennis courts, where despite the social problems, her skills quickly developed.Serena was four and a half when she entered her first tournament. Richard Williams claims that she then proceded to win 46 of the next 49 tournaments she entered as a junior. Even as a child she received national press coverage and promises of lucrative product-endorsement deals.

In 1991 her father took the unusual decision to withdraw both Serena and Venus from tournaments, hoping to shield them from competitive and possibly racial problems.Serena was then sent to Ric Macci's Florida tennis academy, whose past students included Jennifer Capriati and Mary Pierce.

The financial rewards of a clothing sponsorship deal allowed the whole family moved to a nearby home in Palm Beach Gardens. It was here that the girls were educated after they left school in 1993. It wasn't long before Serena's father made his next controversial decision, which caused more ripples on the Tour.

Serena turned professional at the age of 14, even though the WTA did not recognise entrants that young. She made her professional debut in 1995 at a non-WTA tournament, the Bell Challenge in Quebec. Although she lost emphatically, her father offered continual encouragement and in 1997 she was ranked 304th in the world and rising, after beating Monica Seles.

Serena rose to number 21 in 1999, and in her first Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open, she beat sixth seed Irina Spirlea before losing to her sister Venus. On September 11th, 1999, Serena won the U.S. Open after dominating the tournament, and the very next day she won the Ladies' Doubles with Venus. In fact, in 1999 she did not have a losing record against any Top 5 player including Hingis, Davenport, Venus Williams, Graf, Seles, Pierce and Sanchez-Vicario.

Serena's confident, charismatic, and impressive physical appearance made her very appealing to advertisers, and led to a $12 million deal with Puma. She is an intelligent and energetic women, already contemplating future career paths. One of these could be acting, a choice her father is said to support.

And with Mr Williams behind her, who is to argue?