Seven-time major champion Venus Williams has built a storied legacy of giving back to tennis and the American continued to do just that this week at the WTA Chicago Women's Open. After bowing out the first round to Hsieh Su-Wei on Monday, Williams approached Tournament Director Kamau Murray to organize a clinic with junior players at his XS Tennis Village.
"First of all, Chicago was so welcoming to me," Williams said. "I walked out on the court to a packed house and every single person put all their energy into me. It didn't work this time, but I gave it my all. I loved being here, I love seeing tennis in Chicago. I love being on the court with kids. It brings me so much joy, so maybe selfishly I did it for myself, but I love it."
"These kids are our future and I want to see them get the same thing out of the sport as I did. Whatever level you play at and whatever level you end at, you can get a lot from this game."
Fifty junior players from XS Tennis Village joined Williams for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at XS Tennis Village which has hosted this week's Chicago Tennis Festival. The tour will return for a WTA 500 event, the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic, on September 25th.
"It's so important to have these opportunities," Williams said. "You never know who's going to motivate you.
"My dad saw someone playing tennis on TV and decided that's what it is. Those moments in time, right place, right time, you just have to have that opportunity. I'm excited to not only do this today but to come back again and contribute to the program from a distance wherever I am."
Williams recalled her own brush with greatness at a clinic when she was still a young player with big dreams.
"I remember I went to a World Team Tennis clinic in Chicago," Williams recalled. "Billie Jean King was there and I just remember wanting to show her how I could hit and I thought I impressed her, maybe I wasn't or was, but it was such a wonderful experience for me."
Located in the South Side, XS Tennis and Education Foundation was founded by WTA coach Kamau Murray in 2008 to introduce tennis to Chicago's underserved youth and provide a safe haven and positive pathway for them to attain college tennis scholarships and academic excellence. XSTEF has sent 47 scholarship athletes to Division I schools.
"I'm from Compton, California," Williams said. "It doesn't matter where you start, it's where you end. There's no such thing as a bad place to grow up. The power is in your hands.
"Some of us have more opportunities, some of us have less. But there are people who want to help. There are opportunities out there. Hopefully anyone watching here will see that whether it's here at XS Tennis Village, whether it's somewhere else in the community, there are opportunities. All you have to do is reach out. Just take them."
See more photos from Venus' clinic below: