THis first surprise came when he got into the beat-up Volkswagen pickup. “I get on next to the passenger and sit in the front seat and they spear my buttock,” said the tennis coach. Rick macci recalls in a telephone interview.
“There’s a spring coming up and there’s four-month-old trash, McDonald’s wrappers, dirty clothes, tennis balls in the back. I mean, it was crazy, and there’s little Venus and Serena sitting there and I’m like, ‘God, this is like I’m in a movie.’
Now Macci it is In a movie: King Richard, based on the true story of nonconformist Richard Williams guiding his daughters from working class Compton, California to the top of world tennis, with the help of that first meeting with Macci in May 1991.
Once out of the truck, they made their way to the regular Williams tennis courts and were greeted by some basketball players who yelled, “Hey, King Richard!” Macci continues: “This guy was called ‘King Richard’ in 1991. We went across the basketball court and it parted like the Red Sea.”
During the first hour of practice, Macci was pretty impressed by Venus, then 10, and Serena, 9, but nothing more. Once he asked them to play competitive points, however, there was an epiphany. “What amazed me was his burning desire to get to the ball. I have never seen two young athletes try so hard to reach the ball. They ran over broken glass to get a ball.
“I could see the speed, how fast and I knew how high they were going to be. I walked up to Richard and said, ‘Let me tell you something. You have the next woman Michael Jordan in your hands. He puts his arm around me and says, ‘No, bro, I’ve got the next two.’
This prophetic exchange is recreated by actors Will Smith as Williams and Jon Bernthal as Macci in King Richard, Now Out, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and produced by Venus and Serena along with his sister, Isha Price.
The biopic offers a poignant portrait of a family unit and of Williams as a fiercely determined man, infuriatingly headstrong with a plan, willing to smash convention and upset the rarefied elites of a sport long synonymous with white privilege. He suggests that this impulse flows, at least in part, from his own traumatic childhood in the Deep South.
Williams, now 79 and African American, was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in the Jim Crow era of racial profiling. In his autobiography, In black and white, co-authored with Bart Davis, writes: “Hatred fueled Shreveport. I often had to run away from whites who were trying to hit me. They chased me with a stick, a bat, guns and chains.
“My body had many reminders of the violence that I experienced as a child. They broke my nose three times and had my teeth pulled out. I am limping to this day because, as a child, members of the Ku Klux Klan stabbed me in the leg with a railroad spike and an ice pick. “
Smith convincingly portrays a man who still carries that world on his shoulders. In Compton he works unsociable hours as a security guard and, trying to protect his daughters, faces violent gangs. But he and his wife Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis), are determined to give their daughters – Isha, Lyndrea, Tunde, Venus and Serena – the best possible education and opportunities.
In one scene, Williams tells them, “This world has never had any respect for Richard Williams, but they will respect everyone.”
In your memoirs, this can appear as tough love. Williams writes that Venus and Serena “had no choice but to be strong” and, when they were five years old, they had to learn taekwondo to protect themselves.
He complains about society: “We are too soft on ourselves and on our children. We do not demand excellence. We don’t train them to work hard from a young age. We want to give them kindergarten and a circle of roses and nonsense that doesn’t really give you any security. Security comes from knowledge. Knowledge is power. Power is the ability to win. “
When Venus and Serena, played on screen by 15-year-old Saniyya Sidney and 14-year-old Demi Singleton, emerged as glowing sports talents, Williams worked hard to keep her focus on school, church, and fun. Macci witnessed this firsthand after the family moved to Florida so Venus and Serena could join their tennis academy, it had produced stars like Jennifer Capriati.
Speaking from Boca Raton, Florida, he remembers: “That’s why I love the boy, I tell everyone that he is the best father of all time. The public looks at this tyrant but he always kept balance in their lives. I wanted them to be children.
“They always brought their books to court. If it rained, they would go up to my office and study. If they didn’t want to play, they didn’t play; would they go to the mall or the beach or Disney World. The guy wasn’t in a hurry and that’s why I respect him so much ”.
Williams’ irreverent and fickle style, and determination to break the sports parent’s playbook, posed challenges for the coach. Macci, who is 66 and still teaches 50 hours a week, says: “At the end of the day, the kid was amazing, even though I had to fix it. I told a lot of people, ‘Hey, doing that for four years, I should be in the hall of fame for that alone!’ But that’s part of the training. I also had to train the parents.
Find out how to do it. It takes a certain personality, but I had a mission. The cost didn’t matter; nothing mattered because the girls were like family. Richard and I were best friends and when you love what you do and love the people you do it with, you don’t keep score. You find a way to make it happen and the rest is history. “
Williams had no experience in the sport and few financial resources, but he marched to the beat of his own drummer, ignoring the media smear as a blatant self-promoter. In Smith’s interpretation, he is a visionary who is not bothered by self-doubt.
Macci comments: “The guy is bulletproof. He is one of the safest people I have ever met, and I have met many people from all walks of life. From the beginning he instilled that in these two girls.
“If two people had felt more pressure, which ruins some people, it could have been Venus and Serena. It made them stronger because Richard and Oracene prepared them for how the world would react and respond. Venus said it best: ‘We were almost brainwashed into thinking we were going to be number one.’
There is no doubt in Macci’s mind that Serena, who is now 40 years old and has won 23 Grand Slam titles in his career, She is the best player of all time, and Venus is not far behind. He believes that they both transcend tennis and all sports as role models.
King Richard describes another coach early in the sisters’ careers: Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn), who met them when Venus was seven and Serena was six. In an interview from his home in San Rafael, California, the 84-year-old questioned various details of the film, including his portrayal of Williams repeatedly interfering during a lesson to discuss the girls’ posture on the court.
Cohen, who coached star players like John McEnroe, also dismissed the film’s account of how the men broke up, insisting that Williams did not fire him but simply moved with his wife to Northern California and thus , he couldn’t continue training Venus and Serena.
“Richard and I get along really well,” she says of their three years together. “He was my assistant coach and he got an A. We never had a disagreement; we were good friends. Venus was like an older sister to my daughter, who was like a baby.
“It couldn’t have been a better relationship and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. In a way they portrayed him as aggressive and manipulative. He was never that with me, never. The girls were perfect students. Everything I told them to do, they did. We never had an argument. “
When Venus was almost eight years old, Cohen recalls, she suffered from a debilitating condition in her feet. “Richard said, ‘My baby can’t walk.’ I said, ‘Richard, that’s the best thing that could happen.’ He was surprised. I said, ‘I’ll stay there and throw balls at him without help. She will stand on the baseline and I will create a perfect tennis game for Michelangelo. ‘ We did this for nine months. I couldn’t run and I was in pain, but we did. Those nine months were the key. “
King Richard culminates in Venus’ debut in a professional tournament and a match against one of the best players in the world. It leaves viewers in no doubt as to the historical significance of two young African-American women rising to the top of world tennis.
Stacey Allaster, The executive director of professional tennis for the United States Tennis Association says: “They definitely helped break down barriers to make our sport more inclusive of people of color and other diversity, and we still have a long way to go. . As a sport, we cannot say that we are there yet.
“We have received so many gifts from Serena and Venus and Richard and Oracene and the whole family, and one of them has been inspiring other black girls and other black boys to play tennis and achieve their dreams. “
Allaster, who is the former executive director of the Women’s Tennis Association, adds: “Richard knew that Venus and Serena were going to revolutionize the world. They have, and it has transcended only to tennis. Sport is a microcosm of society and, whether intentionally or not, they have used their gifts on the court to make a difference in the world.
“It is a very strong family of courage and love and the movie does a wonderful job of sharing all that the family has sacrificed and gone through. It’s such an inspiring story. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism