“King Richard” casts Will Smith as the father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams – and finds Venus revisiting the first defeat of her pro career.
The film (in theaters and streaming on HBO Max now) offers up “a version of ourselves, not our complete selves or who we are at the moment,” Venus Williams tells USA TODAY. “So in that sense, it’s interesting to watch a past you.” Her sibling adds: “Those memories aren’t too much of a distant past for us.”
‘I got the heart of him’:Will Smith, Williams sisters break down what’s true in ‘King Richard’
“King Richard” follows the young career of Venus Williams (played by Saniyya Sidney) from around ages 10 to 14, when she made her pro debut at Oakland’s Bank of the West Classic tournament, as well as the trajectory of sister Serena (Demi Singleton), a year younger. The movie’s finale depicts Williams’ early success at the tournament, dominating Shaun Stafford in the first round, but also her defeat as she’s ousted in the second by No. 2-ranked Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
Will Smith’s inspirational, imperfect tennis dad is Oscar-ready
Asked about that match, Venus Williams remembers “not knowing what I was doing. I mean, I had a huge lead. She took a bathroom break and I fell apart.” She won the first set 6-2 and was up 3-1 in the second when Sanchez Vicario called for a break. When she came back, Sanchez Vicario won the next 11 games, winning the second set and then blanking Williams 6-0 in the third.
“I just remember distinctly thinking, ‘Gosh, I should have won that match. I shouldn’t be going home.’ And I knew I had to improve myself,” Williams says now. “I think that’s what I took out of it. It wasn’t anything I ever said to anyone, but inside, I knew that I should have won. So I guess I was hard on myself at the time.”
But did the cagey veteran take advantage of the rookie? In the film, Sanchez Vicario (Marcela Zacarias) leaves for so long that everybody starts getting antsy, including Venus, and Richard eyes the bathroom suspiciously.
Serena Williams admits that “she did take a long break.” And Venus Williams doesn’t remember how long “but it was definitely a thing. I don’t hate her for it at all.”
“I was young. Take a break on me now, it’s like, ‘Great! You can keep going.’ But at the time, would I have won that match without the break? You can’t ever say. But probably.”
Contributing: Oscar Dixon