Venus and Serena Williams didn’t become two of the best tennis players in the world, with 30 Grand Slam titles between them, without a lot of hard work.
The sisters spent their entire childhoods in intense coaching sessions, cheered on and pushed by their dedicated father, Richard Williams, known as King Richard.
Richard is the topic of a new biopic released on Friday, starring Oscar-nominated actor Will Smith.
The film depicts the gruelling and sometimes shocking lengths Richard took to ensure his daughters succeeded.
It also tells the inspiring story of the racism, violence and hardship the Williams family overcame as the sisters attempted to break into a sport that was traditionally dominated by wealthy white people.
Richard’s impoverished Louisiana upbringing was an incredibly tough one, which he detailed in his autobiography, Black and White: The Way I See It.
Living in a “three-room shack”, Richard hunted and stole in order to put food on the table.
He even recalled a young boy in his community whose body was found hanging from a tree after a horrific Klu Klux Klan hate crime.
Richard moved to Chicago and later California, where he met Venus and Serena’s mother, Oracene Price. The couple welcomed Venus in 1980 and Serena the following year.
When his daughters were still tiny, security guard Richard watched the French Open on television and he was enticed by the prize winnings, deciding there and then that he would raise them to be world champions.
But it wasn’t easy for the girls to get on the courts.
Richard wrote in his memoir that he once had to fight gang members in a bid to get Venus and Serena time on the court, and he was beaten so badly his ribs were broken and he had ten teeth knocked out.
“To this day, I wear my ‘toothlessness’ as a badge of courage,” he wrote.
It took two years of fighting the gang and its feared leader before they eventually retreated, leaving the court available for Richard and his daughters.
The battle wasn’t over, as Richard also had to contend with social services, who were worried about the youngsters playing on a potholed court, and that they were missing out on their education – though the truth was they were also achieving top grades.
But Richard refused to let anything get in the way of his daughters’ tennis training – and he went to brutal lengths to ensure they played at their best.
Their former youth coach Rick Macci explained Richard risked “millions” of dollars of his money, including to fund an enormous house for the family so they could live near the tennis coaching camp in Florida, hoping it would one day pay off.
Rick, who coached Venus and Serena for six hours a day, five days a week, and four hours on Saturday, even revealed Richard would put broken glass on the court to stop them from stepping back too far while playing.
“There were a few times Richard put broken glass on the court. The glass was behind the baseline, back by the fence, so they wouldn’t back up and take the ball early.”
He also recalled Richard’s utter certainty in his daughters’ talents.
“In the beginning I didn’t think they were that good, but when we started competing they blew me away,” said Rick.
“I said to Richard, ‘You’ve got the next female Michael Jordan on your hands,’ and he put his arm around me and said, ‘No, brother, I’ve got the next two.'”
In King Richard, the patriarch is portrayed by Will Smith, but the 79-year-old is unable to say what he thinks about the film as he suffered two strokes in the last five years. He also suffers from a neurological condition that inhibits his speech, and so he is now cared for by one of his sons from his first marriage.
But Venus and Serena, who are played by Saniyya Sidney, 15, and Demi Singleton, 14, in the film, have given it their full support.
And Richard even knew the film would be created, as Rick revealed Richard once told him: “Someday they are going to make a movie about me.”
“Oh, I think I cried the whole time,” Serena said after watching the film.
“My dad is such a – I always say, he’s before his time,” she continued.
“Down to this marketing, and even just to put us in a sport that was completely a white sport, and then to say that we were going to be the best at it, it was something that no one had ever done before.”