They're young, they're powerful, and they've got bodies of steel. I met them once years ago; now, for the first time since they've risen to the apex of their sport, I sit across from two of the most famous sisters in the world, Venus and Serena Williams.
Before Venus and Serena, now 22 and 21, were even born, their father, Richard, decided to turn them into pros because he'd once seen a tennis player receive a check for $30,000. What he didn't know was how to play tennis. So using instructional videos, Richard—who back then owned a security agency—taught both himself and his wife, Oracene, a nurse, how to master the game. (They have three other daughters—Yetunde, Isha, and Lyndrea—all older than Venus and Serena but none professional tennis players.) Even when the girls were just tots—they began to play at the age of 4—they were serving up passion in the conservative sport. After they turned pro at 14, they traded those stodgy tennis whites for bold designs. Last August at the U.S. Open, Serena made headlines all over the world when she stepped out wearing a short black catsuit by Puma, one of many companies she's scored endorsement deals with. For her part, Venus had already signed a $40 million contract with Reebok, which ranks among the highest endorsement fees paid to a female athlete.
The Williams sisters haven't been without their detractors. Some have criticized them as arrogant. Others have said they lack fire when they compete with each other in the finals. And their father has taken heat for what some call peculiar behavior. (When Richard jumped up and down after Venus's 2000 Wimbledon win, the press reported that he'd done a strange "victory dance.") But nothing has stopped the Williams power set from swinging on with their game. And whatever anyone may think of Richard, one truth is tough to refute: When it came to his girls' future, he called it right. Venus and Serena were just 13 and 12 when Richard declared they would one day be the top two tennis players in the world. Start reading Oprah's interview with Venus and Serena Williams Note: This interview appeared in the March 2003 issue of
O, The Oprah Magazine.