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.
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
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.
11th, 1999, Serena won the U.S. Open after dominating the tournament, and the
very next day she won the Ladies' Doubles with Venus.