Beauty & Fashion

Sisters at Court | Vogue

Richard Williams has managed to make it to Oklahoma City—he drove from Florida in his black Montero—and the family practice sessions are models of decorum. Every few minutes Richard hugs one of his daughters: “That’s great, Venus. That’s terrific.” “I love you, Serena. You’re a great daughter.” In between, he is a bit tougher: “That’s a good shot, V, but it’s not enough to get to number one. Forward, Serena; stay down, V; watch the wrist, Serena. Serena, if you keep standing up you gonna become a loser. You’re getting on my nerves now. You know what I’m talking about, right? Don’t go on defense, Venus; everything is offense.” When Serena blows Venus away, he says, “Very good. Now, that’s surviving.” When Serena lets a ball die, Mom says, “That is not running, Serena, that is walking.” They reserve their harshest criticism for private whispered conferences with each girl, and at the end there is elaborate praise, hugs, and thank-yous all around. (They are so solicitous of one another’s feelings that when Brandi was taking pictures in the supermarket, her husband reminded her to “make sure you get a little more pictures of Serena than you do of Venus since it’s her camera.”) In the parking lot after the session, Richard tells his daughters that “y’all are some of the best peoples in the world.”

Richard, who was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and whose mother picked cotton to support him and his sisters, has a reputation for being a bit pompous and not just a little irritating. But he is also wickedly funny. He introduces Venus and Serena to the club director, looks at me, pauses, and says, “And this is my daughter by my first wife.”

Venus has her own rap for being standoffish on the tour, but then she is always surrounded by family. Also, as she has pointed out, she is there to play her matches and do the necessary interviews, not to socialize. In any case, there seems to be little chance of anyone getting too big a head. Brandi will not let the girls fly first-class, not even to Europe or Australia. “I’m just not going to pay all that money. I feel like I’m cheating somebody who needs it.” This is the subject of one of her daughters’ favorite schticks. “In second class,” Serena says, “people are unruly; the bread is hard and cold. In first class, on the other hand, they serve you sundaes, it’s roomy and spacious and comfortable, and you can lean back without having to worry about somebody hitting you.” Venus steps in. “In first class, everybody has their business papers and stuff. If you could lean over you could probably learn to make some money. In second class, if you don’t watch out, they’ll steal your wallets.” Mom has heard all this before. “If it were up to me,” she tells me, “Venus wouldn’t even have a car. But it wasn’t up to me.” Right, Venus teases: “If it were up to you, we’d all be eating rice and barley.”

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