Williams Sisters Meet in Historic Tennis Final Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

When Venus Williams defeated her sister Serena Williams in the final match of the Lipton Championships, the event marked the first time two sisters had faced each other in the finals of a major tennis tournament in more than a century and drew increased attention to women’s professional tennis.

Summary of Event

In 1999, sisters Venus and Serena Williams were up-and-coming tennis stars who had each won a few Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tournaments. Tennis fans had speculated for months whether the siblings would one day meet each other in the final match of a WTA event. Such confrontations were indeed rare. Three sets of brothers had faced each other in tennis finals in the recent past: Gene Mayer defeated Sandy Mayer in 1981, Emilio Sánchez defeated Javier Sánchez in 1987, and John McEnroe defeated Patrick McEnroe in 1991. The only meeting of two sisters in a tennis final, however, had occurred 115 years earlier, in 1884, when Maud Watson defeated Lillian Watson in the most prestigious tennis tournament of all, Wimbledon. On March 28, 1999, the anticipated showdown between the Williams sisters finally occurred at the Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne, Florida. Tennis Sports;tennis African Americans;athletes Women;athletic achievements [kw]Williams Sisters Meet in Historic Tennis Final (Mar. 28, 1999) [kw]Tennis Final, Williams Sisters Meet in Historic (Mar. 28, 1999) Tennis Sports;tennis African Americans;athletes Women;athletic achievements [g]North America;Mar. 28, 1999: Williams Sisters Meet in Historic Tennis Final[10320] [g]United States;Mar. 28, 1999: Williams Sisters Meet in Historic Tennis Final[10320] [c]Sports;Mar. 28, 1999: Williams Sisters Meet in Historic Tennis Final[10320] Williams, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Richard

Venus and Serena Williams were raised to be tennis champions. The African American sisters were born to Richard and Oracene (Price) Williams fifteen months apart—Venus on June 17, 1980, and Serena on September 26, 1981. The girls grew up in Compton, California, in a modest, middle-class home. Unlike many tennis players, the Williams sisters did not grow up playing the game at country clubs—their parents could not afford such luxuries.

Legend has it that Richard Williams decided to teach his two daughters how to play tennis so that they would grow up to have good incomes. He supposedly became inspired while watching a women’s tennis match on television, noting the size of the winner’s check. Consequently, he took the girls to the Compton city courts when they were just toddlers and encouraged them to hit hundreds of tennis balls every day. Both sisters were natural athletes, and they enjoyed the game tremendously from the beginning. Richard Williams, with no formal training in the sport, became his daughters’ primary coach.

Venus Williams was the more talented of the two as they grew up and began entering junior tournaments. Although Serena also had great success early on, almost everyone in tennis circles in Southern California pegged Venus as a star in the making. Serena, observers believed, would be a good, solid player, but Venus would be exceptional. Many newspaper articles in the early 1990’s touted Venus as someone destined to be a champion. She declared herself a professional in 1994; Serena followed in 1995.

Both sisters were strong and athletic. At six feet, one inch tall, Venus used her long legs and arms to track down and return balls that smaller or slower players would have missed. Serena grew to be five feet, eleven inches, but was more muscular and powerful than her sibling. Both developed serves that were several miles an hour faster than those their opponents could produce. Likewise, they were excellent at returning balls hit to them—playing from the baseline (the back of the court) and outslugging their challengers. Both, too, could come to the net and offer lobs and drop shots to their rivals.

When the sisters began as professionals, Venus was consistently rated ahead of Serena. At the beginning of the Lipton Championships, for example, Venus was ranked sixth in the world and Serena was seventeenth. Venus had won four singles championships; Serena had won two. The sisters, who were best friends and roommates, had also won two doubles titles playing together. In 1998, they had also accomplished a unique feat: Each had won two mixed doubles championships in tennis’s four “grand slam” events.

The most important tennis tournaments for men and women alike are the national “opens” of Australia, France, Great Britain, and the United States. The British championship is commonly known as Wimbledon, the name of the London suburb where the event is staged. These four tournaments are the only ones known to tennis aficionados as “major” or “grand slam” contests. These tournaments are also among the very few tennis events held each year when men and women play together; each features (in addition to men’s and women’s singles and doubles titles) a mixed doubles category, in which each team consists of one woman and one man. In 1998, Venus and her mixed doubles partner, Justin Gimelstob, Gimelstob, Justin won the Australian Open and the French Open. Serena and Max Mirnyi Mirnyi, Max then teamed up to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same year.

Serena Williams (left) and her sister Venus hold their trophies after the final round of the Lipton Championships on March 28, 1999. Venus won the tennis match by the score of 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Despite these successes, the Williams sisters were still teenagers who had only begun to show the world what they could do on a tennis court when they met for their first showdown in a final match in March, 1999. Venus blitzed her sister in the first set, 6-1. Serena bounced back in the second, winning 6-4. The match remained even through the first eight games of the decisive set, but Venus won the last two games to take the set 6-4 and the match by the score of 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. The historic confrontation took almost two hours and was witnessed by fourteen thousand fans in the stadium and by millions more on television.

Significance

This first all-Williams final set the stage for much more intrafamily tennis drama in future years. The Williams sisters faced each other again in several tennis finals in the early twenty-first century, usually in major tournaments. At first, Venus was the dominant sibling—as she had been at the Lipton Championships in 1999. For example, Venus defeated Serena in the 2001 U.S. Open final. By the time that match was played in August, 2001, the sisters had helped to make women’s tennis so popular that the contest was broadcast at night to make it available to a larger television audience. This marked the first time that a women’s tennis final was telecast in such a time slot.

Venus and Serena Williams brought a new level of excitement to women’s professional tennis and influenced the game significantly with their style of play. Almost every observer of the history of women’s tennis has agreed that the power and athleticism that the Williams sisters displayed transformed the game, as, in response to the Williams style of play, many other women players began incorporating more muscle-building workouts into their training. Tennis Sports;tennis African Americans;athletes Women;athletic achievements

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clarke, Elizabeth. “Venus Takes It Home.” Palm Beach Post, March 29, 1999. Provides an excellent summary of the first finals match between the Williams sisters. Places the event within historical perspective.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Djata, Sundiata. Blacks at the Net: Black Achievement in the History of Tennis. Vol. 1. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2006. Draws on interviews, press coverage, and other sources to present the history of black participation in the sport of tennis. Includes discussion of the Williams sisters.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Edmondson, Jacqueline. Venus and Serena Williams: A Biography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005. Scholarly work examines the place of the Williams sisters as women and as African Americans playing a sport dominated primarily by Caucasians.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gutman, Bill. Venus and Serena: The Grand Slam Williams Sisters. New York: Scholastic Books, 2001. Informative work intended for young adult readers charts the rise of the Williams sisters through the 2000 tennis season.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wine, Steven. “Sister-to-Sister Showdown Ends in Win for Venus.” Akron Beacon Journal, March 29, 1999. Contemporary news report of the March 28, 1999, final also discusses the historical implications of the match.

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