EXCERPT: 'On The Line'

It wasn't long before we sisters started making some serious noise on the local tennis scene. My father hadn't known a whole lot about that world going in, but he was a quick study. He always said he had a master plan for us—and that he was "a master planner"—and part of that plan was to collect whatever tennis insights he could find. He moved about by touch and feel; he added to our game plan by borrowing from the game plans of others; mostly, he watched local pros and picked up ideas and strategies for his sessions with us. By the time I was seven going on eight, and Venus was eight going on nine, Daddy was scouting area tournaments and academies, and following the comings and goings of all the young players in and around Los Angeles. It was a competitive environment—and a close-knit community. Everyone knew everyone else, so it's no wonder people started to pay attention to what he was doing with his girls on these courts all around Los Angeles. Our home courts might have been neglected and underused, but as we bounced around we turned a couple heads, that's for sure.

For one thing, there weren't a whole lot of African-American tennis players on the circuit at any age. That goes back to the entitlement or privilege that attached to the sport. For another, you didn't see too many entire families on those public courts. There were seven of us; we couldn't help but turn heads, and over time Daddy got to talking to all these people and tapping in to whatever was going on in L.A. for kids playing tennis. This was an important part of our development, and the first time we got any kind of exposure as players.

He signed us up for all these different events. One day when I was seven he came home and told us we'd be hitting with Billie Jean King, and of course we all knew who she was. Another big part of Daddy's grand plan was to get us to learn the game by watching the pros. He had us watching so much tennis on television, talking all the time about all these great players, that we were terribly excited. We thought Billie Jean would be hitting with just us, but that's not at all how it happened. There was a clinic, organized by World Team Tennis, and Billie Jean was one of the featured participants.

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