Venus Williams took the sports world by storm when she first arrived on the international stage as a teenage tennis phenom. From the outset, the expectations for her were high, and she commenced exceeding them from the get-go. Here are 15 things you might not have known about the global icon.
1. Venus Williams was born in Compton but raised in West Palm Beach.
Venus Ebony Starr Williams was born on June 17, 1980 and grew up in Compton, California. In 1991, Williams's family relocated to West Palm Beach, Florida, because her father, Richard Williams, saw that Venus and her younger sister Serena both showed great promise as tennis players and wanted them to train with Rick Macci. The famed tennis player-turned-coach, who has worked with Andy Roddick, Jennifer Capriati, and Maria Sharapova, also saw the Williams sisters' enormous potential and agreed to train them.
2. Williams was raised a Jehovah’s Witness.
Williams was raised a Jehovah’s Witness by her mother, Oracene Price, who converted to the religion in the 1980s. Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for their door-to-door approach to sharing their faith, and they don’t celebrate birthdays or most holidays. They also refrain from participating in politics. While both Venus and her sister Serena have been private about their religious faith, according to Tennis.com, both still make time to attend services and log their hours for the required door-to-door ministry.
3. She was profiled by Sports Illustrated when she was a kid.
At an age when most children are out playing with their friends, Williams was being featured in Sports Illustrated, giving her national recognition as a rising tennis star. In a 1991 article titled “Child’s Play,” Williams—who was just 10 years old—was profiled by the preeminent sports magazine. When asked about her dreams for the future, Williams said she hoped to play at Wimbledon and fly to Jupiter. As for her tennis technique? “I try to see if they’re playing smart and concentrating, and playing to their opponent’s weaknesses,” Williams explained. “That’s what I try to do when I play.”
4. Williams made her professional debut at age 14.
The sport of tennis was forever changed on October 31, 1994, when Williams turned pro at 14 years old. The child prodigy was set to be challenged by the world’s best when she made her professional debut at the Bank of the West Classic in Oakland, California, and onlookers wondered if she could live up to all the hype.
As it turned out, she greatly exceeded it: After knocking out 59th-ranked Shaun Stafford, Williams made it to the second round, where she faced off against Arantxa Sánchez Vicario—the world's second-ranked player at the time. It was a tight match, but Sánchez Vicario emerged the victor (then went on to win the entire tournament).
5. Venus Williams became the first Black tennis player to be ranked number 1 in the Open era.
On February 25, 2002, Williams made history by becoming the first Black tennis player to be ranked number 1 in the world. When interviewed about her accomplishment, she was quick to acknowledge Althea Gibson, yet another tennis great whose career in the 1950s and ’60s predated official world rankings. “She was the first,” Williams said of Gibson. “More than anything, I just feel proud to represent America in my sport.” While Arthur Ashe won three grand slam titles, he never achieved the top ranking.
6. Venus Williams is a part-owner of the Miami Dolphins.
After being named the world’s top tennis player in 2002, Williams told Tennis Majors that the best part of her journey to the top was “that I’ve enjoyed myself along the way and that I have not limited myself just to playing tennis or made myself believe that that’s the only thing in life. I’ve always been doing things at the same time and having a career. For me, that’s the best part.” The success that Williams experienced on the court translated off the court as well, with a number of entrepreneurial endeavors. One of her highest-profile business moves came about in 2009, when she and her sister Serena purchased a minority stake in the Miami Dolphins.
“To have this opportunity is really where our heart is,” Venus told ESPN at the time. “We’re South Florida girls. When we get off the road, this is where we come home to. When we come home to Dolphins games, it's going to be exciting.” This was yet another historic moment, as their purchase made Venus and Serena the first Black women to hold a stake in an NFL franchise.
7. Williams found time to earn two college degrees while maintaining her tennis career.
Though she has been playing tennis for most of her life, Williams’s dad—who has been the guiding force behind her career—always stressed the importance of an education over all else. “Too many Black athletes think sports is the only way out,” Richard told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 1992. “But sports is a vehicle to get an education. I’m looking for my kids to be well-balanced. I want them to be role models, but athletes are not great role models. I want to see them develop their education with their tennis.”
Making good on her goals, Williams received an associate’s degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in 2007 and earned a B.S. in business administration from Indiana University East in 2015—all this while being one of the greatest tennis players of all time as well as managing a successful business portfolio.
8. Williams is the head of a business empire.
Venus is all business as a tennis icon and as an entrepreneur. In 2002, she founded V Starr, a luxury interior design firm that has done work on hotels, high-end condos, and athletic facilities. Her first project was for a fellow athlete, former NBA player Carlos Boozer. She also launched EleVen By Venus Williams, an activewear brand.
In 2020, Williams spoke with Forbes about the challenges of being a small business owner, and the importance of never second-guessing yourself. “It’s OK to be afraid, but it’s not OK to let it ruin your decision-making process,” she said. “There’s always a reason to be afraid. But should you let that take over? Hell, no.” Williams’s growing business empire ensures that when she finally decides that her professional playing days are over, she’ll have plenty to keep her busy.
9. Venus Williams starred in a reality show with her sister Serena.
In 2005, the Williams sisters took their talents to the small screen and starred in their own reality show, Venus and Serena: For Real. The series, which aired on ABC Family, gave viewers an up-close look at the lives of the superstar sisters as they navigated being icons in tennis and pop culture. Though only five episodes aired in the single season, the Williams sisters were among the first star athletes to develop their own reality show just when the genre was taking off.
10. Williams fought for equal pay for women players at Wimbledon.
Until 2007, male tennis players were paid more than female players at Wimbledon. The archaic policy had been in place for decades, and was yet another shameful example of economic inequality based on gender. But Williams refused to remain silent on the issue.
In 2005, Williams attended a Grand Slam committee meeting with then-WTA CEO Larry Scott, where she raised her concerns about the gender pay gap. In 2006, she penned an op-ed in The (London) Times that drew even more attention to the matter. “I feel so strongly that Wimbledon’s stance devalues the principle of meritocracy and diminishes the years of hard work that women on the tour have put into becoming professional tennis players,” she wrote. In 2007, the All England Club—home to Wimbledon—agreed to change its prize money policy.
11. Venus Williams has won five Olympic medals.
Not only does Williams have several Grand Slam titles under her belt, but she’s a five-time Olympic medal winner—four golds and one silver. Along with Serena, she is a part of the winningest doubles tennis team in Olympic history.
12. Williams is a New York Times best-selling author.
In 2010, Williams added another distinction to her ever-expanding list of accomplishments when she became a New York Times best-selling author. Williams co-authored Come To Win: Business Leaders, Artists, Doctors, and Other Visionaries on How Sports Can Help You Top Your Profession, which explored the early athletic experiences of several successful people. Williams interviewed close to 50 people for the book, including fashion designer Vera Wang, business magnate Richard Branson, former President Bill Clinton, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
13. Venus Williams is the oldest woman on the WTA tour.
When it comes to age, it’s nothing but a number when considering the storied career of Venus Williams. At 42 years old, Williams is still going strong and defying the odds by continuing to compete at the sport’s highest level. Currently, she’s the oldest player on the WTA ranking list. Amazingly, Williams won at one WTA match in 28 consecutive seasons. Her on-the-court dexterity combined with her longevity makes her an all-time great in the sport.
14. Williams has never won the French or Australian Opens.
While Williams has dominated the courts at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, she has never won the French Open or the Australian Open. In the French Open, she made it to the finals in 2002 but lost to her sister. In the Australian Open, she made appearances at the event to date but lost in the final round on two occasions. When considering her immense accomplishments, the fact that Williams never won a French or an Australian Opens is a mere footnote in a remarkable career.
15. Venus Williams has nine siblings.
While Venus and Serena are both global icons, they have several other half-siblings who are not in the tennis game: Isha, an attorney; Lyndrea, a fashion merchandiser; and the late Yetunde Price are Oracene Price’s daughters from a previous marriage. In 2003, Yetunde was tragically shot and killed at the age of 31. She had worked as the personal assistant to both Venus and Serena, who established the Yetunde Price Resource Center—a Compton-based nonprofit organization that “collaborates with partner organizations to offer trauma-informed programs that promote individual and community-wide healing and resiliency”—to honor their sister’s memory.
On their father’s side, they have five more brothers and sisters (though not much is known about them): Richard III, Ronner, Sabrina, Chavoita, and the youngest member of the family, Dylan Starr, who was born in 2012.
A version of this story ran in 2021; it has been updated for 2023.