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    As Serena Williams bids goodbye to tennis, re-watch the film that smartly hinted at her predestined greatness

    As Serena Williams bids goodbye to tennis, re-watch the film that smartly hinted at her predestined greatness

    As Serena Williams bids goodbye to tennis, re-watch the film that smartly hinted at her predestined greatness
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    By Jude Sannith   IST (Published)

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    From the start of King Richard, the audience bears witness to Richard Williams’ obsession with tennis and convictions surrounding his daughters’ imminent greatness. He doubles up as their childhood coach and agent while convincing one professional coach after another to take them under their wing. Richard eventually succeeds in convincing tennis coach Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) to coach Venus, while Serena is left to coach under the watchful eye of her mother, Brandi.

    Earlier this year, the Will Smith-starrer King Richard won him an Academy Award for Best Lead Actor (Male). The film sees Smith play the role of Richard Williams, the father and one-time coach of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams. Its screenplay is as much a chronicle of Richard’s dedication and commitment to raising two sports stars as it is of how Venus (played by Sanniya Sidney) rose to greatness while defying the odds.
    Interestingly enough, the one character who doesn’t receive as much spotlight in King Richard is Serena Williams. And yet, Demi Singleton's (who plays the role of Serena) supporting act, in its very essence, says a whole lot about Serena’s greatness without saying much at all.
    From the start of King Richard, the audience bears witness to Richard Williams’ obsession with tennis and convictions surrounding his daughters’ imminent greatness. He doubles up as their childhood coach and agent while convincing one professional coach after another to take them under their wing. Richard eventually succeeds in convincing tennis coach Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) to coach Venus, while Serena is left to coach under the watchful eye of her mother, Brandi.
    In many scenes, King Richard goes the extra mile to portray — and rather accurately — how Venus and Serena’s dad pinned most of his hopes on Venus, and not particularly Serena. From personally attending Venus’ coaching sessions and tournaments, to getting the family to rally around her tiny achievements, Venus Williams was always meant to be the star.
    In fact, Serena herself acknowledges this in her article for Vogue, while announcing her retirement. “If you watched King Richard, then you know that when I was little, I was not very good at tennis,” she writes. “I was so sad when I didn’t get all the early opportunities that Venus got, but that helped me. It made me work harder, turning me into a savage fighter. I’d travel to tournaments with Venus as her hitting partner, and if there was an open slot, I’d play.”
    She adds: “I followed her (Venus) around the world and watched her. When she lost, I understood why, and I made sure I wouldn’t lose the same way. That’s how I started to move so fast up the rankings, because I learned the lessons from Venus’s losses instead of the hard way, from my own. It was as if I were playing her matches, too.”
    Back in King Richard, the watchful eye of the audience tends to pick up on how Serena quietly yet resolutely carves out her own destiny. There’s a particularly telling scene where Venus is playing one of her early tournaments, with the Williams family as spectators. Yet Serena is nowhere to be seen, as she practices away from the action. “Where’s Meka?” Venus asks her half-sister Lyndrea, about Serena’s whereabouts, after returning victorious. “She’s fine,” Lyndrea replies, “She’s just bored — said she knew you would win.”
    For Serena, things take a turn for the better, even if only slightly, when high-profile coach Rick Macci takes both girls under his wing — coaching the duo and hosting the entire Williams household on his own dime. However, even here, we see how Venus is the one who is spoken of and discussed when it comes to junior tournaments, the decision to turn pro, and high-profile endorsement deals. In fact, a key part of the film’s plot is Venus’ legendary Bank of the West match against top-ranked and much older Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1994. However, every now and again, King Richard keeps hinting at Serena’s greatness-in-waiting.
    This build-up reaches its fulfilment in one particularly touching scene where Richard Williams walks up to a dejected Serena, as the evening sun casts its fading brilliance on both characters in cinematographer Robert Elswit’s camera frame. “Can I tell you a secret?” Richard asks Serena. “Your sister is going to be number one in the whole world, no doubt about that,” he says, “But you — you’re going to be the greatest that ever was. You’re going to be the greatest of all time.”
    As of 2022, Venus Williams has won Wimbledon five times. Serena beat her by two titles, winning her last Wimbledon title as recently as 2016 to make it seven in all. She also took home a total of 23 Grand Slams — one more than the reigning male all-time Grand Slam champion, Rafael Nadal. This makes her the greatest tennis player of all time — just like Richard predicted. Just as the film hinted, even as it placed her in the supporting act all along.
    King Richard streams on Amazon Prime Video
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