Quinn Sanders, 14, and SkyeDior Nelson, 10, from Seattle, know the story of another pair of sisters, Venus and Serena Williams, very well.
The deadly serves, brute force. Childhood in Compton, California and an outrageous road to stardom that didn’t include junior tennis. The mother who coached her, the older siblings who supported her, and the father with an unusual – and ambitious – plan.
“Every member is there [Serena’s] Family played a role in her success. It’s like my family,” Nelson said.
“My sister helped me, as did Serena and Venus.”
And on the tennis courts at Pratt Park in the Central District, they apply some of what the Williamses taught the sporting world.
The sisters refer to themselves as “GLOW Girls” who are involved in an apprenticeship and leadership program for black girls in grades 8 through 11 in Seattle.
Another person who hoped to grow Seattle’s tennis community, former WTA Tour player Vania King, grew up in Southern California with heavy influence from the Williams sisters. She said they came from a similar background and that her father was inspired by Richard Williams. Richard remembered her, said hello, and checked in whenever their paths crossed at tournaments.
King won the 2010 Wimbledon and US Open women’s doubles titles with Yaroslava Shvedova. They also reached the final of the 2011 US Open.
She met Serena twice in singles in the US Open Round of 64 in 2014 and 2016. Serena won both.
“It was kind of a surreal experience doing that,” King said. “She changed my life and the lives of countless other little girls and families.
“Someone who could break the barriers of the sport. Before that, there was no one who really fit the mold that someone like me could relate to.”
King retired from gaming last year and is the founder and CEO of Serving Up Hope, which has partnered with the YMCA of Greater Seattle. She assists with training and helps start tennis programs.
King called the Seattle tennis community “pretty small” but supportive. She’s part of a group that has monthly brainstorming calls.
“Finding ways together to grow together, which is frankly unusual in tennis,” King said. “We’re trying our best to provide resources and work together.”
On those monthly calls is Rylee Hafitz, executive director of the Seattle Tennis and Education Foundation (STEF), which offers free programs to low-income families living in and near Magnuson Park. The program seeks to reduce the stigma of tennis as a rich elite sport and make it as accessible as possible to anyone who wants to try it. STEF gives PowerPoint presentations to schools, and Hafitz said Serena is by far the most well-known professional tennis player.
She was also a role model for Hafitz.
“I think she was incredibly inspirational and powerful. It was about: Strong women are beautiful, strong women are great,” said Hafitz.
Aside from the obvious benefits – socialization, mental and physical health – a goal of these programs is to create a pipeline to high school tennis. Sanders is open to joining the Garfield High team in the spring as a freshman. That’s a long way off for Nelson, who has been playing for just over a year. The backhand gets stronger.
Despite being the younger sister, she prefers older sister Venus.
“She looks like me. She hits fast and I love her confidence,” Nelson said.
Sanders and Nelson’s mother, Quisa Wright, received a request for a new and active hobby just weeks after the family began ‘King Richard’, the Oscar-winning film about the Williams family and their early years.
That’s how they met Christina Broadwin, director of programs for the non-profit organization Sports in Schools. Broadwin asked Wright to help find potential recruits for Girls Leading Our World (GLOW), an eight-week program at the Amy Yee Tennis Center, where she is an instructor. The program is free with the idea that registrants would pass it on by coaching younger players.
Wright looked around and was surprised by the excitement.
“With kids of color, you never know what’s going to land that’s going to pique your interest, especially since you don’t see it often in your community,” Wright said. “So that made me suspicious. But there was a really great response.”
GLOW provided the family with tennis racquets and balls and now the GLOW girls are playing with Wright and her brother at Pratt Park. It becomes competitive, but everyone helps everyone.
On Friday, Sanders counted and handed out tips as “Team Yin and Yang” — she and her brother — played doubles against Nelson and her friend “The Dramatic Besties.” They weathered the frustrations and leaned on family as the Williams sisters once did.
King recently had an enviable angle on Serena’s potential last Grand Slam while working for the US Open World Feed.
“Venus and Serena were both so dynamic and alive and really brought something new to the game,” King said. “From a practical point of view, they changed the game in terms of athleticism and strength. So that really pushed the game into a new era.”
Serena and Venus reunited for their first doubles match in more than four years on September 1, 25 years after debuting as a couple in the first-round tournament of the US Open. They lost 7-6 (5), 6 -4 to Lucie Hradecka and Linda Noskova.
Wright’s scheduled watch party this Sunday was scrapped on September 2 when Serena was eliminated in the third round by Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5 6-7(4) 6-1. It was the most-watched tennis show in ESPN’s 43-year history. An average of 4.6 million viewers tuned in.
It will probably be her last competition.
“I’m sad but I’m also happy because I see new players too,” said Nelson.
However, you never forget your first favourite.
“No one does it better,” Sanders said.
Would you like to try tennis?
Tennis Aces Program
A free, six-week program for Seattle middle school students that focuses on schools with the highest percentage of students who qualify for the free and discounted lunch program. Racquets are provided for storage. The classes meet twice a week after school for a final “Jamboree” where the players represent their schools.
“The hurdles for this sport are actually very low. But there’s a stigma that it’s not for people of color, the BIPOC community, that it’s more of a white sport,” said Christina Broadwin, Amy Yee Tennis Center instructor and Sports in Schools program director. “That’s just not true. All you need is a racquet and a ball and a wall – and maybe a friend. It’s one of the most accessible sports out there, or it should be. We’re trying to make some headway there.”
Each fall, more than 100 children participate in the program, which is funded by donations and grants. For a list of schools and more see sportsinschools.org.
The Seattle Tennis and Education Foundation (STEF) offers a twice-weekly free program at Magnuson Park for 2nd through 6th graders who qualify for a free or discounted lunch. No previous tennis experience is required and all program materials are provided.
See stef4youth.org for more informations.
With programs in Uganda, Los Angeles, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and Seattle, this organization, founded by retired professional tennis player Vania King, offers starter tennis programs at the Matt Griffin YMCA (SeaTac) and Northshore YMCA (Bothell). serveuphope.org. See website for age groups and fall dates.