There’s a man behind that tennis-talent curtain and his name is Richard Williams. Venus and Serena’s father was not only the one who got the tennis phenoms first playing the sport, but also coached them early in their respective careers, leading both to their first Grand Slam titles.
But Williams has not simply been a quiet bystander while his daughters walked the road of on-court dominance. Quite the opposite. Now, nearly two decades after the Williams sisters first broke onto the international scene, and with Serena going after yet another Wimbledon title, Richard is back in the spotlight, one of the most polarizing figures in the sport.
Here’s what you need to know about the former coach:
1. Williams Grew Up in Louisiana With a Single Mother
Richard Williams grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana one of six children and the only son of Julia Mae Williams. His father, R.D., left his mother when Williams was young and he turned to an early life of crime. He recently described his battles against racism and attempts to better himself in his autobiography, Black and White: The Way I See It. He wrote:
I became fascinated with stealing at the age of eight. I don’t know if the thrill was being able to get away with a crime, or that the crime was against the white man. Either way, it was the start of a prosperous career. By the time I was thirteen, my business ventures were profitable enough to move us into a little-better house at 514 East Seventy-Seventh.
Johnson was, finally, able to leave Louisiana, after he went after the local KKK, and moved to Chicago and, then, California. It was there that he met his first wife Betty Johnson. The pair had two daughter and three sons before divorcing in 1973.
2. He Married Oracene Price, Venus & Serena’s Mother, in 1980
Williams met Oracene Price, a registered nurse, in 1979 and the two married shortly after the birth of their first daughter, Venus, in 1980. Price had three daughters of her own from a previous marriage, including Yetunde, who was killed during a shooting outside of Los Angeles in 2003.
The Williams family lived in Compton, California for several years as Venus and Serena learned the game. However, they soon moved to Florida, leaving behind the crime-ridden streets of Compton when Rick Macci offered to coach Venus and Seran for free.
3. Williams Came Up With a 78-Page Plan for His Daughter’s Tennis Careers
Williams first took tennis lessons from a man he knew as “Old Whiskey,” and eventually decided that his daughter’s future would be on the court. He’s said that he wrote a 78-page plan, detailing Venus and Serena’s future and immediately started teaching them the game when they were just four years old.
He even went so far as to put up signs in the family’s front yard with positive life lessons. According to The New Yorker, boyfriends were not allowed and to discourage any ideas of early motherhood, Williams would actually rip the heads off any of his daughter’s dolls.
4. He’s Been a Polarizing Sideline Figure for Nearly 20 Years
Williams made headlines after Venus won her first Grand Slam title in 2000 at Wimbledon, jumping up and down and yelling “Straight Outta Compton!” He wasn’t quite done though. Williams followed up by jumping over the NBC broadcast booth, catching broadcasters entirely by surprise.
Of course, that was only the start. Since then, Williams has been nothing short of vocal throughout his daughter’s prolific careers and even drawing the ire of some media, including ESPN’s Jason Whitlock. The “Pardon the Interruption” moderator claims that Wiliams has fixed his daughter’s matches for more than a decade.
5. He Married Lakeisha Graham in 2010 & Welcomed a Son in 2012
Following his divorce from Price in 2002, Williams met and married Lakeisha Graham in 2010, a woman more than 30 years his junior. The couple welcomed their first son, Dylan, in 2012.
But while Williams found success as Venus and Serena’s coach, he has drastically different plans, plans that don’t involve athletics at all. He told The New Yorker:
With the things I know now, Venus and Serena wouldn’t have been there. Look at Donald Sterling…what sport do you think he played? Not one! And he makes enough to pay every single player. (Dylan will) never be a billionaire in tennis.