by Leslie Fobbs
What I enjoy most about featuring celebrity homeschoolers is that I learn so many neat little facts that I never knew about the person, which makes me appreciate their story even more. Today’s feature, Serena Williams, is no exception. Usually, I feature homeschooled siblings together, but Venus and Serena have such powerful stories in their own right, that they deserve a separate space.
Serena Williams was born in 1981 in Saginaw, MI to a large family of half brothers and sisters from both her parents' previous relationships. She is the second born to her mother and father and Venus’ only full sister. By the time she was three, the family had moved to Compton, CA and she started playing tennis then. There they didn’t have access to the best equipment or the best tennis courts (they used broken rackets and old balls on pot-holed courts), but they didn’t let that stop them. From there the family moved to West Palm Beach, FL when Serena was nine, so that she could attend the tennis academy of Rick Macci. Rick also became her private instructor for a short time until Serena’s father, Richard, took over.
Richard Williams homeschooled both Serena and her sister and made sure to allow them to be little girls in spite of training for several hours a day. He taught them up until they went to public school for high school. Education was clearly a top priority for him as he stopped sending the girls to junior tennis tournaments when Serena was ten so they could focus more on their school work.
Serena played her first professional tournament in 1995 at the age of 14. She lost in the first round of qualifying, took a year off and then lost three more events the following year. Later that year she finally won a few matches in her fourth tournament by upsetting two top-10 players. Unfortunately, she lost in the semi-finals but went from being ranked 304 to 99 that year. It was a great start to an amazing career.
In the early years, Serena lost a lot (including to her sister), and she had several injuries, but her commitment to becoming the best at her game kept her going. She finally won a Grand Slam title at the 1999 US Open against a world-ranked No. 1 player, becoming the second African American woman to do so. Serena ended that year at No. 4.
Since then she has racked up many accolades and set lots of world records in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. In fact, she’s been ranked No. 1 eight times since 2002 and holds the most Grand Slam titles combining all three tournament types among active players - 39. Twice she held all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously. In 2015 Serena was named Sports Person of the Year by Sports Illustrated and was the only female on the Forbes list of 100 highest paid athletes (she earned $27 million that year, 2016).
What’s great about Serena is that tennis does not consume her life or her interests. She also has interests in fashion, philanthropy, entertainment, and entrepreneurship. Serena has her own clothing line, called Aneres (her name spelled backward), and a signature line of purses and accessories with the Home Shopping Network. She even became certified as a nail tech before launching a line of nail polish. Now that’s dedication!
Serena has appeared in several TV shows, a music video, and even had a short-lived reality show with her sister, Venus. The two are very close (they lived near each other in Palm Beach, FL) and do a lot together off the court. They have owned a minority stake in the Miami Dolphins since 2009. And of course, we can’t forget Serena's long list of endorsements, including her lucrative deal with Nike.
Serena has turned out to be the greatest female tennis player of all time and homeschooling seems to have been a big part of that. She was happy her parents chose to do so, crediting this crucial period with allowing her to focus on her talents and interests without interference from others. Without the freedom and flexibility that homeschooling affords, she would not have had that time to hone her gift.
Recently, Serena gave birth to a baby girl in September of 2017 with husband Alexis Ohanian (co-founder of Reddit). Her comeback to the tennis world has been unexpectedly slow for her, but she is now back to playing full time at the age of 36!