When did Serena Williams go pro and how old was she?

Bruno Cooke November 22, 2021
Photo by Art SEITZ/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

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Serena and Venus Williams are back in the spotlight following the release of King Richard on November 19, starring Will Smith as the sisters’ father Richard Williams. When did Serena Williams go pro, and how old was she when she did?

When did Serena Williams go pro?

Serena Williams became a professional tennis player in 1995, just after her 14th birthday – her first professional event was in October 1995 (her birthday is in September) at the Bell Challenge in Quebec. 

Her father Richard famously pulled her and her sister Venus off the Junior Circuit despite Venus’ successes. Agents were approaching her, and she was “storming up the rankings”. 

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Photo by Art SEITZ/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Nevertheless, he declared that they wouldn’t play any more tournaments until they turned pro. Undeterred by the remonstrations of their coach, Rick Macci, Richard told him: “They’re going to be kids.”

Nick Bollettieri told ESPN afterwards that everyone “thought Richard was crazy. But he did something no one else did. He kept them back from tournaments and taught them technique and to go for it.”

What about Venus?

Venus Williams is just over a year older than Serena. She was born June 17, 1980, while Serena was born September 26, 1981.

She was 11 when her father stopped sending her and Serena to national junior tennis tournaments. At the time, she held a 63–0 record on the United States Tennis Association junior tour, and was number 1 among the under-12 players in Southern California.

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Venus Williams turned professional on October 31, 1994. She was 14 years old. She preceded her younger sister by almost exactly a year. Venus fared better than Serena – comparing first professional games only – beating then-NCAA singles champion Shaun Stafford 6-3, 6-4.

Which sister, Venus or Serena, has spent longer as WTA number 1?

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ranked Serena Williams singles world number 1 on eight separate occasions between 2002 and 2017. 

On the sixth occasion, she held the ranking for 186 consecutive weeks – the same amount of time Steffi Graf held the title in the 1980s.

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In total, Serena has been the WTA number 1 for 319 weeks. By contrast, Venus has been the WTA number 1 for just 19 weeks – 11 in singles and eight in doubles. 

It is Czech-American former professional tennis player Martina Navratilova who holds the record: she was WTA world number 1 in singles for a total of 332 weeks, plus 237 weeks in doubles.

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Bruno is a postgraduate student studying global journalism, with research interests in the intersection of the media, storytelling, culture and politics. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Packs Light and Forge Press, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com. He is a Student Ambassador for Tortoise Media, a big fan of Freddie Mercury and a novelist – his debut novel, Reveries, is available on Amazon.