Historic Event at WimbledonJuly 07, 2009
Despite taking place in the weeks following the 37th anniversary of Title IX, Serena Williams’ 11th Grand Slam victory at Wimbledon this past Saturday over her sister Venus was overshadowed by the men’s final, which saw Roger Federer go 30 games into the fifth set to earn his record-breaking 15th major. This is a shame considering the enormous impact Serena and Venus have had on women’s tennis and women’s athletics (See the television ratings of the most recent women’s final without a Williams sister as one example. Another is the impressive work Venus did to equalize the payouts at majors between men and women tennis players.), and the challenges they have overcome to achieve their extraordinary success on the court.
Saturday’s women’s final marked the eighth time in the past decade that a Williams sister has won Wimbledon and was the third time that the two have faced each other in Wimbledon’s finals. Serena thwarted her older sister’s goal of being the first female tennis player to win Wimbledon three years in a row since Steffi Graf (1991–93), and she now has 11 grand slam titles, one behind women’s tennis legend Billy Jean King.
Even more impressive is keeping these historic achievements in perspective. The Williams sisters grew up in Compton, California, and began their tennis careers by honing their game where “a lot of dope is sold. We play on two courts — that’s all there is — and they look like trash, they’re so slippery,” according to their father and longtime coach, Richard Williams.
But even after their well-documented entrance into professional tennis, escaping their childhood roots in Compton proved challenging. Yetunde Price, the half-sister of Venus and Serena and their personal assistant, was tragically shot and killed while driving through the notorious neighborhood in the fall of 2003.
The Williams sisters, like many professional tennis players, opted to be privately trained at a sporting institute during their latter childhood years instead of attending public middle and high schools. Still, their ability to overcome these difficulties and achieve monumental gains in women’s tennis remind us of the power of athletics as a path out of a disadvantaged background and the importance of offering equitable athletic opportunities to all. Unfortunately, despite the recent 37th anniversary of Title IX, many high schools still do not offer equal athletic opportunities to women, a problem that is especially acute in low-income and minority schools. Venus and Serena provide yet another example as to why addressing this problem is so necessary.
Written by Tom Rosen, 2009 AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund/Leadership Programs summer fellow.