But I also know that the sisters didn't go from those legendary cracked courts with the holey nets straight to the victory podium at Grand Slam events. They had an enormous amount of help along the way, some of it from people who hoped to cash in as they became famous, others who just fell in love with their talent, or wanted to help because they thought the girls could write a truly inspirational tale for others, particularly among minorities that tennis has a hard time reaching.
I sometimes wish the sisters were a little more conscious of what the game has actually given them in the way of opportunities, material rewards, a platform for their ideas and opinions, and even relationships. But they've been sucked into that shallow narrative that encourages them to think that they doublehandedly conquered a world that was intrinsically hostile to them. The truth is that tennis was dying to have someone like the Williams sisters come along, and not entirely for selfish reasons. Most people love to see the underdog or the disadvantaged succeed, and among those who do, the ones who fare the best are the ones who realize they had a lot of help along the way—that they're part of a pretty good, well-intentioned community.
But let's stop right here for a moment to do something we sometimes neglect because of how close Venus and Serena are, and the extraordinary way their careers have proeeded, like parallel train tracks. Venus and Serena are two very different individuals—as different personally as they are as tennis stylists.
Venus is more diplomatic, as befitting an older sister (and one who's often tried to shield and protect Serena). In recent years, she's become more of a spokesperson for the WTA Tour and stepped to the forefront on a number of gender-related issues (including equal prize money). It's fitting that she's had all of her Grand Slam successes in recent years at Wimbledon; she has a clear appreciation for the traditions and society of tennis.
Serena has brought a lot to tennis, no doubt about it. But she doesn't seem to recognize that tennis has brought a lot to her, too. Serena has the star power and name recognition to be a female Andre Agassi. She could win big events for many years, and she's at the age when maturity and self-awareness might transform her into a comparably iconic figure.
Like Andre, Serena at one stage longed to be "more than a tennis player." She thought she wanted to be an actress, and took her best shot. It went nowhere. But she hasn't yet connected the dots the way Andre eventually did, and come to accept that life can be pretty good if you recognize that tennis is your destiny, and on the whole that isn't all that bad. It offers some enormous advantages and power to do some good, or at least make people feel really good about, if nothing else, being tennis fans.