LOS ANGELES — Before Richard Williams taught his daughters Serena and Venus how to play tennis, he went to Coach Richard Williams.
“King Richard,” refers to the father of the Williams’ sisters and is the name of a new film starring Will Smith about how Richard Williams developed Serena and Venus into superstars. He learned from a man with the same name.
In the mid-1970s, with Serena and Venus not yet born, Richard Williams enrolled in tennis classes at Los Angeles Southwest College and met Coach Richard Williams.
“He was one of my best students because he learned so fast,’’ Coach Williams, 83, told USA TODAY Sports. “Initially he just came out there and was taking a class and he just got into it. Once he got into it, oh, my God. He was really out there playing.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is, he had some skills, too. He was a helluva basketball player. And he could play golf. Richard was so well-rounded.”
More than a decade after taking the class, Richard Williams came to see Coach Williams and brought his daughters, with Venus then about 10 and Serena about 8, Coach Williams said.
The draw was the top juniors playing at Rancho Cienega Sports Complex, where Coach Williams and his brother Fred have run the tennis shop and coached junior players for almost 45 years.
Coach Williams said it was gratifying to see his former pupil teaching Serena and Venus what he learned during about six months of tennis classes at Southwestern College.
“That’s one thing that I like about Richard is he took the basics and helped develop the girls,’’ Coach Williams said. “I give all the credit to Richard. He did the work. I did not do that much. I did a teeny bit, maybe.”
During those early years, Coach Williams said he and Serena and Venus’ father saw each other off the court, too.
“You know, tennis is expensive,’’ Coach Williams said, “so we both used to go to this place called Paramount Sports on Hollywood Blvd and we would go up there and we’d get old tennis balls for 10 cents apiece.’’
Once Serena and Venus established themselves as young stars, they founded the Venus and Serena Tennis Academy. The Williams’ brothers have run it ever since and said through the academy they have coached hundreds of players and helped dozens of them get college scholarships.
That includes five children from the same family, according to the brothers.
“All of them graduated and three of them are dentists,’’ Fred Williams said with a smile.
During brief remarks by phone this week, the father of the Williams’ sisters recalled learning tennis from Coach Williams at Southwest College and acknowledged the work the Williams’ brothers have done with the Venus and Serena Tutorial/Tennis Academy.
“They’re doing a great deal,’’ he said.
Fred Williams said he recently saw “King Richard” and enjoyed it, and Coach Williams said he plans to see the movie this weekend.
“Everybody keeps talking about ‘King Richard,’ but the mother, Oracene, she was right there also,’’ Coach Williams said. “I remember she came out to Rancho and all the girls came over there and I was hitting with her and I hit a shot on her and she said, ‘Oh, my God! Coach! Coach! You got to show me that shot because I want to teach it to Venus and Serena. I said, ‘OK.’
“And sure enough, I saw that shot a couple of times in their matches. So that was interesting.
“Don’t leave out Oracene.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Serena, Venus have another Richard Williams to thank for tennis games