Serena and Venus Williams may be two of the greatest tennis players of all time, if not the very best, but the road to the top hasn’t always been paved with winning moments. From a fatal car accident to on-court outbursts, here are some of the many times the Williams sisters’ shady behavior has knocked them down in the ranks of public opinion.
Venus was involved in a fatal car accident
On June 9, 2017, Venus was involved in a tragic car accident in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., that led to the death of 78-year-old Jerome Barson. According to TMZ, Williams was accused by Barson’s wife, who was driving at the time of the accident, of speeding into an intersection after blowing a red light, causing Barson’s vehicle to “T-bone” Venus’ SUV. Venus alleged that, at the time of the incident, the light was green and she was only driving 5 mph. Barson passed away about 14 days later in the hospital, and Venus was sued by his estate for wrongful death.
Police originally claimed Venus was to blame for the accident. However, authorities investigating the incident later discovered new evidence that reportedly proved she had legally entered the intersection, according to The New York Times. At the time of this writing, the case was ongoing.
Their family was accused of match-fixing
The rise of the Williams sisters proved to be a goldmine for the media because it often resulted in the sisters facing off against each other in high-stakes matches. But within the tennis world, it also led to suspicion and allegations that their father, Richard Williams, was fixing his daughters’ matches.
Rumors reached a fever pitch at the Indian Wells tournament in March 2001, when an alleged injury forced Venus to pull out of a semi-final match against Serena just minutes before it began. The dramatic response from the crowd and the press, which Richard later claimed was fueled by racism, prompted the sisters to publicly deny that anything shady was going on behind the scenes. “We always go out to compete and that’s how it’s been,” Serena said at the time, according to The Telegraph. “I think if my dad would decide, then maybe Venus wouldn’t be up 4-1 [in their matches], maybe it would be 3-3 by now. So I don’t think so.”
Their father is controversial
Beyond the allegations of match-fixing, Richard has long been a contentious figure in the sport of tennis. According to The New York Times, Richard’s decision to train Serena and Venus to become tennis stars was driven primarily by money — he saw a female tennis player earn more than $40,000 for four days’ work in the 1980s. He began coaching his kids on courts in the rough neighborhood of Compton, where his unusual, arguably harsh methods included hanging signs around the court that read things like, “Venus, when you fail, you fail alone.” He later told CNN that his training methods once got so severe that gang members tried to intervene. “In order to be successful you must prepare for the unexpected — and I wanted to prepare for that,” he said. “Criticism can bring the best out of you.”
Serena has a hot temper
Tennis has become infamous for its players’ hot tempers on the court. Just ask John McEnroe. Serena’s temper has also triggered embarrassing headlines and record-breaking fines.
In November 2009, for example, Serena was fined a then-unheard of $82,500 and risked being suspended from the U.S. Open after she went nuts on a lineswoman over a foot-fault call that led to match point for rival Kim Clijsters at the tournament. “I swear to God, I’ll f****** take this ball and shove it down your f****** throat,” Serena allegedly yelled, according to the New York Daily News. Serena, who’d received a warning for racket abuse earlier in the match, received a point penalty for her outbust, thus ending the match altogether.
They’ve been accused of having bad attitudes
As the saying goes, getting to the top requires making as many enemies as friends, and, indeed, the Williams sisters have been criticized by other players and tennis icons for allegedly having bad attitudes and being sore losers.
In September 2000, tennis legend John McEnroe wrote a piece for The Telegraph that describes the Williams sisters as “cocky” and rude. “What they have achieved is great but they have no respect for anyone in the game,” McEnroe wrote. “Enough is enough.