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Venus and Serena Williams Cover Harper’s BAZAAR’s March 2022 Legacy Issue, Tell Their Story

Serena Williams and Venus Williams at the 2018 US Open. EPA-EFE/JASON SZENES

The Williams sisters story has been told many times—and is the subject of a feature film, “King Richard” starring Will Smith.

Now Venus and Serena are telling their story in their own words. The Williams sisters star on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar’s March Legacy Issue.

In the cover story and interview by Tressie McMillan Cottom, the Williams sisters cover a wide variety of topics, including how father Richard Williams was portrayed in “King Richard”, the impact Venus’ health issues had forging even stronger family ties and the the murder of older sister Yetunde in a drive-by shooting in their native Compton, California in 2003. Read Harper’s Bazaar’s article on the Williams sisters here.

Venus and Serena on how King Richard broadened the scope of how the world sees them: “I don’t think people even thought about what happened before we turned pro,” Venus tells me. “This isn’t a movie about tennis,” Serena adds. “This is a movie about family.”

Venus on how the sisters were archetypes to the Black American experience, but at the same time how their lives were very different than the average family: “I think that our family is just unique to ourselves. Obviously we’re an African American family, and it’s important for people to see African American families in that dynamic…to have role modeling.” Still, she stresses again, “our family was super unique.”

Serena on how she sees the film King Richard: “I am a dreamer, and I love Marvel. I think King Richard is like Iron Man and that there still are other stories around it. The next, obviously, would be the Venus story, and then there’s always the story about our other three sisters, and then there’s like a mom, and then there’s the Serena story. When I look at it, I see it just encompassing this whole superhero kind of thing.”

Serena on how King Richard depicts her father in a way that sports fathers are often not shown: “A lot of people get this different story of sports fathers—especially tennis fathers, who are really overbearing. And that wasn’t necessarily my dad. Everyone’s like, ‘Well, how do you play tennis for so long?’ It’s because we weren’t raised in an environment where it was something that we abhorred.”

On how Richard always put the girls’ mental and physical health first There was the infamous decision to pull Venus and Serena from junior competition so that they wouldn’t “fall to pieces” because of pressure, Richard said in 1991, and could instead focus on schoolwork. Many in tennis considered it an affront to the way things are done. In retrospect, those kinds of choices honored a truth that the rest of the world was slow to accept. Serena tells me about being reluctant to tell her father about injuries because he would insist she rest. “He’s always like, ‘Take your time. You’ll be okay. Don’t play.”

Serena on imagining life beyond tennis: “We never planned to just only play tennis and just only be tennis players,” she says. “We planned to do more.”

On how a health diagnosis for Venus fused the family even closer: “We’ve always been focused on health,” Venus says. “When I started to have issues with my health”—she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Sjögren’s syndrome, in 2011—“my whole family, from my dad down, all joined into living a more plant-based lifestyle. The support is always there.” Serena adds, “We don’t celebrate holidays at all”—they were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses—“but we definitely like to just always figure out ways to … what does Lyn call it?” she asks  Venus, referring to their sister. “The Fellowship,” Venus says. “Yeah, the Fellowship. Lyn says, ‘Let’s get the Fellowship together.’ ”

Serena on Yetunde, the oldest Williams sister who was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Compton in 2003, and her bittersweet portrayal in the film: When Serena showed the movie to her four-year-old daughter, Olympia, she says, “We made sure to take out the stuff that was not kid friendly,” but she was surprised that “it was really more about her saying to me, ‘Tunde.’ She never met my eldest sister. She says she understands that Tunde isn’t around. That was interesting for me in a sad way, but she at least knows her a little bit better.”

Venus on how the media’s version of the sisters threatened to define Serena as a lesser player: “Usually in one family there’s one good player and then the other one is not that great. And I think people told Serena she wouldn’t be great. The fearlessness with which she approached the game was something I’ve always really admired. She doesn’t accept second. She explicitly told me herself that she plays for first place.”

Serena on how she just doesn’t consider the importance of legacy in her day-to-day life: “That’s something I don’t think about nor do I want. I don’t want to think about what I’m leaving. I just think about who I am every single day behind closed doors and behind cameras. And that’s what I focus on.”

Venus on what her and Serena’s next chapter might look like: “Serena and I say we’re going to become body builders after tennis. It might be extreme. It might not happen exactly like that, but you never know.” Then she sobers. “From such a young age, all we’ve done is work. So I think for Serena and I to explore that freedom is surreal. We’ve never been free.”

King Richard’s director, Reinaldo Marcus Green on how the sisters’ legacy will always be about much more than just tennis: “Venus and Serena are still quite young, and to do a biopic on them while they are still living felt like, I think they have a lot more life to live.”