EXCERPT: 'On The Line'

Don't get me wrong: tennis became a real focus for us. Very quickly. It became Daddy's focus, certainly. And what a lot of people don't realize is my mom was with him every step of the way. This was her deal, too. It wasn't just that she supported my dad's vision. She saw what he saw; she wanted what he wanted; she worked for it just as much as he did. She had her own ideas on how we should train—and even now, she's one of the best at helping to break down my game and figure out what's working and what's not. When I was little, I actually spent more time hitting with my mom than I did with my dad. Venus was usually on the next court with my dad. And then, when it was time for my older sisters to hit, Venus and I would start picking up balls for them.

We all played, all the time. It was our thing. It got to where people would know we'd be out there on those courts every day after school. There were just two courts at the park in Compton, so the few recreational players there would know to get their games in during the day, because when three o'clock rolled around Richard Williams would be pulling up in his Volkswagen minibus, dirty yellow with a white top, with his five girls spilling out onto those courts like they had their names on them. There were a few more courts at the park in Lynwood—maybe six—but we always used the two at the back, and the people there knew we'd be coming, too. It's not like there were too many people playing tennis on those public courts back then. If it happened that the courts were occupied when we arrived, we waited our turn. We'd do some drills, or some stretching off to the side, maybe work on our swings. My dad never minded the wait. His thing was: no problem, we'll fill the time.

The courts themselves were in sorry shape. There was broken glass every here and there. Cracks in the cement. Weeds poking through. Soda cans, beer bottles, fast-food wrappers . . . I've read articles that say there was drug paraphernalia littering those courts and that we girls had to sweep the syringes and tubes and plastic bags out of the way before we could play, but I don't remember any of that. When I ask my dad about this, he says, "Why you want to dwell on the negative, Meeka?" In other articles it says we could hear gunshots ringing out while we were playing, from all the drive-by shootings. That I remember full well, only the shots themselves didn't sound all that terrifying until I learned what they were. At first, I just thought someone was setting off firecrackers or popping some balloons, but once I learned what the sound meant it would shake me up pretty good. "Never mind the noise, Meeka," Daddy used to say whenever gunfire rang out. "Just play."

Wasn't exactly Center Court at Roland Garros, but it was all we knew.

We bounced around a lot, from public court to public court. There was one place we used to play that had these great chain link nets. You'd drill a ball into the net, and you'd rattle the cage and feel like you really accomplished something—even though we were supposed to hit it over the net, of course. My dad tried to mix it up for us, but for the most part those courts in Lynwood and Compton were our home base. We branched out, though—and if we didn't like a certain park, or a certain neighborhood, we wouldn't go back.

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