Gerald Marzorati’s book is published by EXMO “Brilliant Serena”, in which the author tried to understand how a girl who grew up in a gangster area of Los Angeles, became a great champion. We offer you to read an excerpt from this biography, in which you will learn about the secrets of raising Richard’s father and how Serena and Venus Williams hardened their character.
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In Compton Park, in the East Rancho Dominguez area near Los Angeles, where the Williams sisters learned to play tennis, they no longer shoot in the streets, and two courts repaired by their father are not littered with broken glass. The revelry of gangs in the city was almost suppressed. Compton was once inhabited mainly by the lower middle class and the working poor. However, the small houses with barred windows here did not show such poverty and despair as in the neighboring areas.
It was here, in a small post-war bungalow at East Stockton, in 1117 that the Williams family moved in March 1983 – Richard, his wife Orasin Price, her three daughters – Jetunde, Lindreya and Isha – from their first husband, Yousef Rashid, who died in 1979. , almost three-year-old Venus and one-and-a-half-year-old Serena. Orasin was not eager to move to Compton. In her autobiography, Richard recalls how Orasin said, “I will not move to Compton. There is a limit to everything, Richard! ”
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In Long Beach, near the ocean, the Williams family had a house that Richard bought shortly after marrying Orasin in 1980. She came to Los Angeles from Michigan, grew up in Saginaw, and graduated from Western Michigan University. Orasin was working as a nurse when she met Richard, a man 10 years her senior. Richard, on the other hand, took longer and much harder to get to Los Angeles: he was born in 1942 in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was one of five children born to one man by his mother, but his father never lived with them or acknowledged them as his own. Poor, African-American Cedar Grove, three rooms in all. In his book, Richard details how he was chased by white boys and beaten by a local sheriff. At the age of eight, he began stealing — berries, nuts, watermelons, cotton — and defending the stolen. Young Richard Williams was overwhelmed with anger. He often got into fights and was even ready for more horrible things.
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Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, when Richard was just 20, he met Betty Johnson and married her in 1965. They had four or five children (it is not known for sure), but in 1973 they divorced. Seven years after her divorce from Betty and her marriage to Orasin, one Sunday in September they watched TV with the whole family, and at that moment something important happened in the life of the whole family. Undoubtedly, for many years this story has become overgrown with beautiful details. As Serena herself admits, Richard was a braggart whom the world did not see, he loved to exaggerate and compose, trying to convince not only himself but also others in their abilities and destiny. In short, that day Richard switched channels and came across an award ceremony for tennis players. The now-defunct tournament in Salt Lake City was shown, and the winner of the championship, 27-year-old Romanian Virginia Ruzici, received a check for $ 40,000. It suddenly occurred to Richard that his daughter, or maybe not one, could make a good career, maybe even get rich.
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For almost 40 years, Richard Williams ran a small security company he founded in South Central. He had plenty of free time during the day, and he began to learn to play tennis. In his youth, Richard was fond of sports, if you believe his word – he played basketball, football. He was tall, well built, and still in good physical shape. Williams first bought a used racket and began to learn the basics of books, magazines and videos, knocking the ball off the wall for hours on end. Then he found a coach and started taking lessons in Watts Park. Richard also passed on his skills to Orasin, who, like him, was tall and once played volleyball and other sports in Michigan. Richard began to develop his own and adapt other people’s methods of educating future tennis stars: beating a soccer ball strengthens the muscles of the arms and shoulders, which is very important for proper and powerful serving; strikes on old blown tennis balls help to increase the speed of the racket.
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Richard Williams has always explained his decision to move his family from Long Beach to Compton by the deep conviction that the ghetto is hardening his character. Orasin considered Compton dangerous for the girls, and Richard considered it a testing ground: “They will learn to stand up for themselves. And how much easier will it be for them to play in front of thousands of white spectators if they play in front of dozens of armed bandits now? ” Compton will turn little girls into strong fighters, my father thought. In addition, as Richard noted in the book, the move helped reduce mortgage payments from $ 1,000 to $ 315 a month, which meant that less time could now be spent on the security business and more on tennis.
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The older girls – Yetunde, Lindreya and Isha – also played at first. Yetunde is said to be the least athletic of them all. Lindrey managed to make it to the university tennis team. Isha had good hopes, but back problems prevented her. Maybe the girls just started playing too late to achieve the same high results as Venus and Serena. Perhaps nature did not give them the necessary athleticism. Richard may not have paid enough attention to them.
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Serena remembers a photo of Venus carrying her in a wheelchair on a tennis court, and how many times she had heard her father give her a racket for the first time in three years, put it on the net and throw balls. By age six, Serena trained almost every day. In Compton, nearby Lynnwood, or some other court, he and his sister took turns hitting the ball. But life was not limited to tennis: Richard and Orasin paid no less attention to education. Both Venus and Serena graduated from high school with honors.
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Training began at six in the morning before school, continued after school, and lasted all weekend. Richard loaded the family and all the equipment into his old van. In the early years, her father paid full attention to Venus, and Serena trained with her mother on a nearby court. As it began to get dark, the girls collected battered balls and put them in boxes in Richard’s van. His father always fastened the shopping cart, which he adapted to the balls on the court, to one of the posts on which the net is stretched. Richard recalls making signs and attaching them to the wire fence of the court to inspire and customize his daughters:
“A bad plan is the key to failure.”
“Venus, your future depends only on you.”
“Serena, you have to learn to listen.”
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The house they all returned to at the end of the day was about 90 square meters. Seven people, two bedrooms, all women except Richard. In her autobiography, Serena says that she associates that time with discipline, household chores, school and girls’ whining. There were two bunk beds in the nursery, which meant that Serena had to climb under a blanket to one of the sisters every night. “I did not think then that I had no place. On the contrary, I considered the whole room my own, ”she admitted. The older Serena got, the more often she chose the Venus bed. Later, when Yetunde began to live separately, Serena finally found her place, but with the onset of night, she still settled down to sleep next to Venus.
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Judging by the autobiographies of family members and what they have been telling reporters all these years, Williams’ homes were rare. Phone and TV were strictly limited. All the time children and parents spent on tennis courts. Serena was only nine when the family moved to Florida. Only Jetunda, who was nine years older than Serena, remained in California – first she worked as a nurse, then opened her own barbershop, gave birth to three children, but at the age of 31 she was shot in Compton. Later, Serena and Venus opened and still maintain the Jetunde Price Information Center at Compton, where women and families suffering from violence are helped to contact other nonprofits, which in turn provide them with housing and services.
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In 2006, Serena bought a 560 m2 house in one of the richest areas of Los Angeles, Bel Air, for $ 6.6 million. In the fall of 2017, a few weeks before the wedding, she bought another house in Los Angeles – a modern Spanish-style mansion: five bedrooms and seven bathrooms. The gated community of Summit in Beverly Hills is just an hour’s drive from the Compton, but there is a whole universe in between.