EXCERPT: 'On The Line'

Even when we weren't playing tennis, our games were tennis related. One of our very favorite family games was UNO, which I always thought was fitting for us. We played that game all the time—and I mean all the time!—and it really instilled a champion type mind-set. After all, the point of the whole game is right there in its name—to be number one! No, UNO's got nothing to do with tennis, not directly, but it's a great teaching tool for any individual sport. It instills such a killer mind-set. Every game produces a winner, but UNO is one of the few games I can think of where you need to announce yourself as the winner just before you actually win, when you're down to one card, so everyone else around the table has a shot at you. It goes from every-girl-for-herself to every-girl-gunning-for-the-leader in a flash, and in this way it can really prepare you for the kind of competition you might face in a crowded tournament field. At first, it's just on you to take care of your own game, but then everyone is looking to knock you down. I don't know if my parents had this in mind when they introduced us to the game, but that's the way I always played it.

Sometimes, our competitions were more straightforward. When it was just us girls, playing in the yard at home, we used to play a game called Grand Slam. Usually it was me and Venus and Lyn. I don't know how we came up with it. Basically, it was like box ball, or four square. We'd hit a tennis ball back and forth with our hands. The court was just a square on the sidewalk. If the ball hit the grass, it was out. Sometimes, we threw some dirt on the sidewalk and it became a clay court—the French Open. Then we might throw down some grass—Wimbledon. I won so many majors right there in Compton, all because my dad had us thinking, breathing, living tennis so much it seeped into our regular childhood games.

It was everywhere and all around. As I look back on those moments playing hand-tennis with my sisters in front of our house at 1117 East Stockton Street in Compton, California, it puts me in mind of something my mom used to say when we were kids. "Whatever you become," she always said, "you become in your head first." That was a real mantra for her. Daddy took to saying it, too. Whatever it was we wanted to do or become, they'd tell us to see ourselves doing it, becoming it. It's tied in to what my dad was trying to do, getting us to visualize those words in our minds once we stepped away from his posters and signs. When Isha came home one day and announced she wanted to be a lawyer, my mom said, "That's great, Isha. Now go and be a lawyer in your head and the rest will follow." It was the same with tennis—even hand-tennis. We couldn't become champions for real until we became champions in our heads, and here we were, little kids, winning Wimbledon, winning the French Open, and willing it so.

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