Three-time Olympic women’s doubles champions, Venus and Serena Williams have each won four golds at the Games. The elder of the two was also the first to complete the singles and doubles ‘double’, at Sydney 2000, a feat her sibling repeated 12 years later. In winning a fifth medal – mixed doubles silver – at Rio 2016, Venus became the most decorated tennis player in Olympic history since 1896.
Sister actOne of five siblings, Venus Williams was born in Lynwood, California, 15 months before her sister and future doubles partner, Serena. Their father Richard was determined that his daughters would be tennis champions and took on the role of coaching them himself from a very young age.
Venus and Serena were both quick to develop their physical strength (Venus was already producing serves in excess of 160 km/h by the age of 10), winning numerous tournaments across the USA as they progressed through the age categories.
Venus turned professional when she was just 14. Three years later, in 1997, she became the first unseeded player in the Open Era to reach a Grand Slam final, at the US Open, only to be outclassed by Switzerland’s Martina Hingis.
First Olympic titlesIt was Serena who kickstarted the Williams sisters’ era of Grand Slam domination, claiming the US Open title in 1999. The following year, Venus won the first of her own Grand Slam titles, triumphing at Wimbledon and then the US Open, defeating fellow American Lindsay Davenport on both occasions.
Straight after her victory in New York, she headed for Sydney, where she powered past Russia’s Elena Dementieva 6-2, 6-4 to win Olympic gold in the women’s singles final.
The following day she teamed up with Serena for the women’s doubles final, with the sisters taking just 49 minutes to dispatch Dutch pair Kristie Boogert and Miriam Oremans 6-1, 6-1. In the process, Venus became the first woman to win the singles and doubles at the same Games since Helen Wills Moody in 1924.
It was the start of the Williams sisters’ longstanding love affair with the Olympic doubles tournament. Speaking after that first win, Venus said: “For me, this is almost bigger than singles. To have a victory like this with Serena, my sister, a member of my family and my best friend, doesn't happen often. It's very rare. Just to be able to play and win together at this level is really huge.”
Winning together was something the sisters would go on to do on many occasions in the years that followed.
Williams vs Williams In 2001, Venus and Serena became the first sisters to contest a major tournament final when they faced off at the US Open. On that occasion it was the elder sibling who came out on top.
In February 2002, Venus was confirmed as world No1, going on to face, and lose against, her sister in a remarkable series of four consecutive Grand Slam finals (from the 2002 French Open to the 2003 Australian).
Meanwhile, Venus, whose career was later disrupted by a series of injuries, made Wimbledon her own, winning the event a total of five times. The last of those victories came against Serena in 2008, with the two then joining forces on Centre Court to land a record 14th Grand Slam doubles title.
Olympic treble An injury to Serena in August 2004 forced the sisters to withdraw from the women’s doubles in Athens, though they were on top again in 2008 and 2012.
In Beijing, they overcame Spain’s Anabel Medina and Virginia Ruano 6-2, 6-0, and on the Wimbledon grass four years later they swept aside Czech duo Andrea Hlavacova and Lucie Hradeck 6-4, 6-4, with Venus securing the gold with a sumptuous backhand volley.
“Crazy,” said Serena, who had won the singles final the previous day. “I'm always copying her. I forgot that she did it in Sydney and I do it here. We're the same doubles team, we just split this to singles, so it's cool.”
Silver lining in Rio Venus remained a fixture on the WTA Tour in the years that followed. Though major singles titles were no longer coming her way, she did win a sixth Wimbledon women’s doubles title with her sister in 2016, taking to 14 their unbeaten run in Grand Slam finals since 1999.
Their proud record of winning every Olympic women’s doubles competition they entered ended at Rio 2016, where they lost 6-3, 6-4 in the first round to Czech pair Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova. Venus tumbled out of the singles at the same stage, beaten in three sets by Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens.
She gave herself a chance of becoming the first tennis player – male or female – of all time to win five Olympic golds by reaching the mixed doubles final with Rajeev Ram. It was not to be, however, as their compatriots Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock edged them out 10-7 in the final set.
That silver was nevertheless an historic one: it made Venus the most decorated of Olympic tennis player of them all.