When Serena Williams’ older sister was brutally murdered by gang members desperate to protect their turf, the loss proved devastating for the tennis legend. And, perhaps understandably, the champion has struggled to speak about her sister’s passing in public. But now, Williams has finally opened up about her personal heartbreak – and she has some pretty tough reasons for sharing her story, too.
For most people, Williams requires little introduction; her older half-sister, Yetunde Price, on the other hand, is perhaps a little less familiar to the public. Price was someone to whom Williams was once incredibly close, though. You see, as well as sharing a familial bond, the Michigan native also served as her younger sibling’s PA.
Yet Price was brutally killed in Los Angeles in September 2003, when she was shot in the head as she sat in a stationary vehicle talking to her partner. And the murder was an incident that deeply affected Williams, who was just 21 years old at the time. In fact, it’s an event that the sporting legend has rarely talked about publicly – until now, that is.
Yes, in March 2019 Williams once again broke her long silence about her sister’s horrific murder while being interviewed by young activist Naomi Wadler. And during the conversation, the tennis superstar both talked about the loving relationship that she’d shared with her older sibling and explained how she’d managed to come to terms with the loss.
But there’s a crucial reason why Williams has finally spoken up about her sister’s murder. Wadler isn’t simply a young girl who has been inspired by the tennis champion’s success, after all. Instead, through her project, DiversiTEA, Wadler is aiming to interview individuals about hard-hitting topics to ultimately make a difference – and Williams was driven to contribute her own tale to the endeavor.
When Williams was Wadler’s age, though, she had yet to make waves in her chosen sport. The future Olympic gold medalist had originally entered the world on September 26, 1981, in Saginaw, Michigan, and she was the baby of the family. Four sisters had come before Williams: three of whom are Williams’ half-siblings from her mom’s previous marriage, while the fourth is Venus.
Plus, as anyone with even a fleeting interest in tennis will tell you, Venus is also incredibly accomplished in the sport. And, interestingly, the two sisters’ vocation was essentially mapped out for them a few years before they were even born. Their father had vowed, you see, to coach his daughters to tennis success after being inspired by a televised match featuring Romanian ace Virginia Ruzici.
Williams’ father, Richard, was originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, but he relocated to Chicago after finishing his schooling before subsequently settling in California. And it was in the Golden State that Richard met his first wife, Betty Johnson, whom he married in 1965. The pair went on to produce an impressive brood, apparently having three baby boys and two girls – although it’s possible that they could have had more daughters.
Six years after Richard and Johnson’s divorce in 1973, however, Williams’ father first encountered Oracene Price. Price is originally from Saginaw, Michigan, and she was employed as a nurse when she began seeing Richard. At the time, she was also a single mom supporting three daughters: Isha, Yetunde and Lyndrea. And Richard and Price ultimately tied the knot in 1980 – the same year Venus was born – while Serena arrived in 1981.
The family subsequently put down roots in Compton – an area of Los Angeles notorious for its excessive levels of crime. Yet this lawlessness didn’t divert Richard from his plan. Under the guidance of their father, both Serena and Venus took up tennis before they turned five, in fact, and the sport would come to dominate their lives. Richard began by coaching the duo on public courts, and when he felt that the girls had become skilled enough he began to enter them into contests in his Louisiana hometown.
The Williams family then relocated to Florida’s West Palm Beach before Serena turned ten. There, the future sporting superstar would continue her training alongside her sister, as the pair attended a tennis center founded by top coach Rick Macci. The teaching pro worked with the sisters in extra one-on-one sessions, too. Ultimately, though, in 1995 Richard chose to withdraw his daughters from the facility, after which he began to tutor them himself.
In fact, Williams’ life of success on the tennis court has been a real family affair. After all, not only was it a sport that she shared with her sister and her father, but her mom also contributed to her training. Price was keen to acquire a grasp of the sport, you see, so that she could help her daughters hone their skills. And the mom also provided an invaluable source of psychological support and guidance for her girls.
Then in the fall of 1995 Williams made her professional debut – aged just 14. But the young girl’s parents weren’t keen for her to start her career so soon, with the pair hoping instead that she would hold off for a couple more years. Yes, Williams and Price were eager for their youngest daughter to wait until her 16th birthday before she went pro. Yet even though the tennis ace was already exhibiting her steely determination to participate, her first tournament wasn’t easy.
It was at Quebec’s 1995 Bell Challenge that Williams first competed in a professional capacity. She was entered as a wild card, in fact, with her first match being against Annie Miller – an American opponent four years older than her. The results may have been disappointing to the fledgling player, however, as Miller beat her in all but two games.
Williams’ next professional matches wouldn’t be until 1997, when she participated in several tournaments. Unfortunately, though, each of her first three appearances again ended in defeat in the qualifiers. But in November of that year, she eventually claimed victory over both Mary Pierce and Monica Seles on her way to the semi-finals of the Ameritech Cup Chicago. The promising talent was only denied a place in the final by Lindsay Davenport.
Williams also made history with her victories over Pierce and Seles, who were ranked seventh and fourth, respectively. Since the Open Era had begun in 1968, you see, no competitor with a lower ranking than Williams’ had managed to beat two top-ten opponents in a single championship. And the future star’s triumphs against these established professionals would see her own rank surge a remarkable 205 places from 304 to 99 in 1997.
But, of course, Williams’ ranking would in time soar even higher. The teenager ended 1998 as the 20th-best solo player in the world, in fact, and she broke into the top ten soon afterwards. And the following year saw further success, as in March 1999 she won her first Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) title: California’s Evert Cup. Then, just weeks before her 18th birthday, Williams’ victory over Martina Hingis in the U.S. Open final made her one of only two African-American women – the first was Althea Gibson – to clinch a Grand Slam title as a solo player.
Subsequent years were filled with both wins and losses as well as a peppering of injuries. But, ultimately, Williams reached the top of her game in July 2002, when she became the highest-ranked singles female tennis player in the world. As of June 2019, it’s a position she’s held eight times, and her longest run stands at 186 weeks.
Furthermore, to date Williams has won 72 WTA titles, putting her among the top five in the all-time standings. The tennis champion also has 23 Grand Slam titles to her credit and has a match win rate of just under 80 per cent. Then there’s the Olympic gold medal that Williams earned at the 2012 London Games to boot – and this is only to mention her singles career.
Yes, Williams has also enjoyed huge success in doubles tournaments alongside Venus. Together, the sisters have won 14 Grand Slam titles and three Olympic gold medals. In addition, Williams has two Grand Slam titles in the mixed doubles category – both with Belarusian Max Mirnyi.
And Williams’ achievements have arguably made her an icon. Indeed, the star has been featured in a number of key influencer lists published by the likes of Forbes and TIME. Meanwhile, her professional income amounts to around $88 million, which makes her the fourth all-time highest-earning tennis pro behind only Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
But Williams’ interests extend beyond the tennis court. The sports pro and her sister own a stake in the Miami Dolphins, for example, while she has also made significant inroads into the television and fashion industries. Then there’s also her charity, the Serena Williams Fund, which helps to provide access to education for the poor.
All in all, it’s safe to say that Williams’ achievements and legacy have been influential on a demographic that extends beyond those interested in sport. As a successful woman of color, for instance, the athlete has become a positive role model for many – not least African American girls. And one such child whom the tennis star has inspired is Naomi Wadler.
Wadler is an activist for black, female victims of U.S. gun violence. And, impressively, the pre-teen is still not yet in middle school; instead, she attends George Mason Elementary in Alexandria, Virginia. When Wadler’s not in class, however, she can sometimes be found giving speeches that highlight the inequalities that her demographic faces – particularly as victims of violent crime. Some may remember Wadler as being a stand-out speaker at the 2018 March for Our Lives protest, too.
Famously, March for Our Lives was a protest organized by students advocating for tighter gun laws. The hugely popular event followed the Parkland, Florida, shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Tragically, 17 people were killed during that horrific incident, with close to 20 more sustaining injuries.
There was also a cross-nation school walkout in memory of the Parkland shooting victims, during which students observed a 17-minute silence in protest against gun crime. However, Wadler – who contributed to the organization of the event in her own school – added a poignant extra minute to the demonstration. She did this in order to remember Courtlin Arrington – an African American girl who’d been murdered at school just one week earlier.
Indeed, Wadler apparently feels that young, female African-American victims of gun crime aren’t given fair representation in the media. According to The Washington Post, she said at the March for Their Lives rally, “I am here to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper – whose stories don’t lead on the evening news.”
“I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence – who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential,” Wadler continued. “For far too long, these names, these black girls and women, have been just numbers… I’m here to say ‘Never again’ for those girls, too.”
And in 2017 the Centers For Disease Control & Prevention had released a report disclosing that black women are at an increased risk of dying from gun violence – over double that of any other racial group. Wadler may have explained why these women’s deaths aren’t often publicized, however, by saying, “It’s subconsciously embedded into people’s minds that somebody with a darker complexion is worth less… [than] a white girl or man.”
Overall, the way in which Wadler expressed herself when speaking at the March for Our Lives demonstration showed a maturity way beyond her 11 years. And as a result her speech ended up catching the attention of many – including Ellen DeGeneres. The TV host was so impressed, in fact, that she invited the young activist onto her talk show and offered Wadler an incredible opportunity.
Specifically, DeGeneres gave Wadler an outlet for her voice by offering her very own series, entitled DiversiTEA, on the Ellen Digital Network. Wadler’s new show consists of five-minute interviews with inspirational and influential women, and it will run for six episodes. And the young host wouldn’t hold back in her questioning, either.
Nor did Wadler seem at all intimidated by her first guest: Serena Williams. In the episode, Wadler asked Williams how girls of color can tap into their inner strength and how their white peers can better support them. In time, though, the line of discussion turned to another subject that is very personal to Williams.
Eventually, the conversation between Wadler and Williams touched upon the 12-year-old’s speech at March for Our Lives. At this point, Wadler stressed how important it was to her to focus on the subject of black women as victims of gun crime as part of the wider conversation. When Williams began to contribute to the discussion, though, she brought up a rarely mentioned personal experience.
“I was affected personally by gun violence,” Williams told Wadler. “My sister unfortunately passed from that.” Yetunde Price was Williams’ half-sister from her mom’s prior union with Yusef Rasheed, and she had unfortunately been involved in a fatal shooting in Compton in September 2003.
Yet although Price had just been talking to her partner as they sat in a parked vehicle, the pair had unknowingly picked a spot outside a residence that was later learned to be a drug den. And two local criminals who were on lookout duties at the property subsequently began shooting at the couple. They’d seemingly assumed, wrongly, that Price and her boyfriend were from a rival gang.
The boyfriend, who was in the driver’s seat, raced away from the scene and drove to the safety of a loved one’s home. Once the pair had safely arrived, he then dialled 911 – but he hadn’t realized what had happened to Price. You see, Williams’ half-sister had unfortunately been shot in the melee. The bullet had struck her head, and, tragically, the resulting injuries would prove fatal.
Price was someone to whom Williams was reportedly incredibly close, too – not least because the elder sibling had worked as a PA for both of her half-sisters. And for many years, Williams had struggled to discuss Price’s passing and rarely mentioned the incident publicly. Now, though, she has a good reason for revisiting her heartbreak.
“People are talking about [gun violence] now because it’s [becoming] more widespread,” Williams explained to Wadler. “But it’s been affecting. I think we need to get comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations. Situations are never really gonna get better if you always avoid it. You have to take it head on.”
Yet as Price passed at a time when Williams’ career was affected by injury, the tragedy didn’t immediately impact her tennis performance. The harrowing event seems to have had a negative effect in later years, mind you. At the 2018 Silicon Valley Classic, Williams lost all but one game in a match against Johanna Konta – marking the biggest defeat of her career to date. And as the sporting legend later revealed, she’d learned minutes before beginning play that her sister’s murderer had already been let out from prison.
However, Price’s name lives on in a Compton community center that her two half-sisters opened in her memory. Williams, meanwhile, took a maternity break through 2017. Then, several weeks after giving birth to her daughter – Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. – she married internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian in November 2017. And, of course, the tennis champion also returned to her beloved sport in 2018. Now, in her late thirties and as a mom of one, she is continuing to work her way back up the world rankings.