Richard Williams: 'I was close to being killed so many times'

Serena and Venus have dominated women's game

Eoghan Macguire and Don Riddell | 12/16/2015, noon
On the tough streets of Compton in the late 1980s, a crowd of school children looked on as an imposing ...
Serena Williams speaks to CNN on the red carpet of the 2011 Essence Black Women of Hollywood Awards. CNN

— Despite the poisonous nature of the occasion, Williams knew his youngest daughter was ready for what unfolded that day.

Serena would go on to defeat fellow teen Kim Clijsters 4-6 6-4 6-2 despite being treated like what he describes as a "a dog, or frog or hog."

"The whole crowd turned against her and all she had to do was remember the training that she had been through," he says.

Family values

These challenging episodes have only bolstered the bonds that have bound the Williams family on its way to the top of the tennis world.

Serena has 21 grand slam singles titles to her name while Venus has seven, despite suffering from illness and injuries in recent years.

Richard Williams says sticking close together was something he learned from his own mother at a very early age. "She instilled in me so many positive things," he says. "That's probably my earliest memory, (my) greatest memory."

His mother's many pearls of wisdom included advice on how to survive in a world where he was beaten up as a five-year-old for "handing a dollar to a white store clerk."

"People say to their kids or to themselves that they would be the thing they want," Williams says. "But she said that's very difficult. It's easy to say, but very difficult to be done. She was showing me ways of how it could be done."

That Williams channeled this advice to help his two daughters become leading players is the stuff of tennis legend.

When up late watching TV one night in 1980, he turned the channel to see Romania's Virginia Ruzici receive a check for winning a tennis tournament that he describes as "a hell of a lot of money for four days' (work)."

"I went to my wife and said that we have two kids, and we'll become rich. They're going to be tennis players."

A 78-page blueprint was soon prepared, describing how Venus and Serena would reach the top. A key plank of the plan was that it would be enacted from one of America's roughest areas.

The Williams family was not poor and could have afforded to live in more well-to-do areas. But it was decided that Compton was the best place for their early education.

"There was no place in the world that was rougher than Compton," Williams said. "The ghetto will make you rough, it'll make you tough, it'll make you strong.

"And so that's why I went to Compton with them."

Teaching Serena to paint

Although Venus and Serena left Compton to attend the Rick Macci tennis school in Florida in the early 1990s, Williams believes they never forgot those lessons.

Serena's unquestionable power, aggression and on-court mental fortitude certainly attest to that. Yet those deep wells of strength have been required in more troublesome circumstances too.

The Indian Wells debacle was followed by the 2003 death of Venus and Serena's half sister Yetunde Price in a drive-by shooting in Compton.