This article is over 1 year old
AUSTRALIA writes the story of a girl growing up under the gaze of the Williams sisters, and a close friendship with them in pursuit of her dream.
Who is ‘King Richard’? The secret child of Venus and Serena Read more
It is 1982. Before the Williams sisters, her tennis partner was Ilie Nastase, the unfailingly honest Romanian whose on-court standup to racism has helped pave the way for the umpires more recent, and more conservative, generation of players. In Paris, Nastase convinced Ilie the Williams sisters were stealing his balls.
The feeling they couldn’t get away from Nastase, a delicate, delicate woman, was mutual, says US writer Stephanie van Veen about the story of King Richard, a girl growing up under the gaze of the Williams sisters’ kingdom. “[Nastase] was sort of this perverse male celebrity, who for all intents and purposes had become an official spectator in the women’s game,” she says. “And she was – she knew he wanted her to be his girlfriend, and she didn’t want to be his girlfriend. And so she hated him because he didn’t know what she wanted.”
So “her issues, she felt, were held hostage by Prince Ilie”.
The Williams sisters: Venus and Serena. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
The book’s epigraph is a maxim by US writer Patricia Highsmith: “Everyone is a murderer until they’re arrested.” That goes for the Williams sisters, too, says van Veen. “They were in the midst of a fairly intense investigation of their own father’s character,” she says. “And they had to create their own narratives, essentially, of who this man was.”
There is a personal bond to be found between her readers and the two sisters, she adds. “It’s not that you love them or you loathe them. You love them as human beings and you care about them. You even might fantasise about them some times.” But perhaps they provide us a peek into their families that doesn’t often come through in the media.
“They are a mirror,” says van Veen. “It can really be positive, if you look at [the rivalry], how [they] can be a source of inspiration, not just within the sport but across sport.”
The Guardian views: tennis should be banned from Wimbledon Read more
The book goes deep into the skin and mind of a child, who grows up wanting to be anyone but the “second-place” sister Venus. Her mother and father got her active playing tennis from the age of six, though they told her she would go on to play basketball. But then the Pox took hold, and just as a 13-year-old, she finds herself struck with glandular fever. She went down to 60lbs and lost sight in one eye.
She doesn’t need the Williams sisters to prepare for the greatest moment of her life, but the fact they felt compelled to communicate and conspire made it happen. “For once they might have been the source of guidance for her.”