In celebration of Black History Month, the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF) released a digital exhibit, Breaking the Racial Barriers, which is a comprehensive look at the history of black tennis in America. The exhibit includes brief profiles of black tennis pioneers, former pros and current top pros, including tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams and Dr. R. Walter Johnson, who in 2009 was inducted into the (ITHF) as a contributor. Throughout the Australian Open, the will recognize selected black pioneers and current players.

Five -time Wimbledon champion

Venus Williams’ rags-to-riches story began 40 plus years ago near Los Angeles when her father, Richard, watched a French Open women’s final on television and visualized then-unborn Venus receiving that $40,000 winner’s check. In 1991, Venus, 11, with a 63-0 record, became Southern California’s No. 1 junior in the USTA’s 12-and-unders. Her nine-year-old sister, Serena, was No. 1 in the 10-and-unders. Richard believed that Venus’ dominance stirred racial tensions among some parents of Venus’ opponents. He recognized, too, that to keep his girls on the road to greatness, they would need tougher competition and quality training. After exploring other options, Williams accepted Rick Macci’s invitation to relocate his family to Macci’s academy in Delray Beach, Fla.

Venus impressed Macci with her court prowess and athleticism. When she took water breaks during practice sessions, Macci marveled at her ability to walk to the fountain on her hands. “Her athleticism is there with the 16-year-olds,” he said. “There’s a champion running through that blood.” Venus was 14 when she turned pro in 1994. She reached the 1997 U.S. Open final in her major debut and claimed her first of five Wimbledon titles in 2000. 

Her 48 Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour singles titles include seven majors (five Wimbledons and two U.S. Opens). Already considered an all-time great, Venus, 40, isn’t in a hurry to qualify for International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF) recognition. She plans to play a while longer.  “I’m good at what I do,” Venus said. “Not many people get to do this. I’m really blessed.”  Venus’ prize money: $41.9 million. Estimated net worth: $95 million (includes earnings from her business, V Starr Interiors, partnership in the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and other investments).

Courtesy of International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF)