Venus and Serena Williams joined Will Smith at his takeover of Red Table Talk in anticipation of King Richard, which lands in theaters this Friday (Nov. 19). In this eye-opening conversation, you’ll learn the foundational lessons the tennis legends’ parents imparted that have led them to enormous success on and off the tennis court.
This episode also features warm vignettes and questions from notables the sisters hold dear, like Naomi Campbell, as well as from rising stars who are inspired by them, including Simone Biles and Coco Gauff. Venus and Serena also welcome their mother, Oracene Price, and half-sisters, Isha and Lyndrea Price to the table, where they add their perspectives on what makes their family unit so strong.
Smith takes his acting seriously, especially when he is tasked to take on roles of real people, and playing Richard Williams took just as much effort to get it right. At the beginning of this episode, you’ll learn how the Williams Sisters withheld their decision to become executive producers of the film until they screened it in full. “I wanted to honor the two of you, and honor your family in a way that would resonate with your heart forever,” Smith shares.
Dig into five more things we learned from the episode below.
Staying ground spiritually is how Serena got through her controversial 2001 Indian Wells match
Venus touched on the first lesson her parents instilled in her and her siblings—putting God first. “That gave us an opportunity to actually be better at what we do because we were able to realize as much as you want it, this is just work and a job,” she explains. “There’s so much more bigger things in life. That’s a foundational lesson that literally helped us to maintain our mental health.”
Serena agrees, sharing how much being in tune spiritually impacts decisions she makes in life and how to even approach a match. She recalls leaning on prayer to get through her match at Indian Wells in 2001, where Venus pulled out citing an injury. The Williams Sisters and their father were then brutally scrutinized by the press and booed by spectators at the match. “It was hard,” Serena says. “I just remember—I was losing and I didn’t even care. I was like, ‘I don’t want to win, I just want to get out of this with dignity,’ and not just walk off the court and not just start balling right there at that moment. And literally, every change over I sat down [and] prayed, ‘Just help me get through this, just help me step on that court...I just want to finish the match.’”
Serena found strength and ended up winning the match, though she would not return to Indian Wells for 14 years due to that incident being so traumatic for her.
Handling loss and failure is an opportunity to recognize how much you've given it your all
Both Serena and Venus admit in between laughs during this Red Table Talk that they do not handle loss well. “Of course it’s always—you give your best. I think that’s what Serena and I can probably—and probably most players—can feel. Even though I lost, I did give my best. I prepared the best that I could. Maybe I didn’t do it right but you could sleep at night with that thought.”
For Serena, every failure is an opportunity to learn how to not make those mistakes again. “I become my best player every time I lose,” Serena continues. “I learned from what happened in that loss, and I generally try to really make leaps and bounds from that loss. I think sometimes people are afraid to lose if they start winning, or afraid to fail—I know I was in that position—but it’s not failure, you slipped, and then you’ll get back up.”
Maintaining mental health can be found in intentionally doing the simple things
Answering Simone Biles’ question of how they keep going, especially when they know they’re in need of a mental health break, the Williams Sisters share simple remedies. “I remember one time in 2006, I just took the whole year off,” Serena says. “For me when it comes to Grand Slams, sometimes I push maybe too far. I just always keep going.”
For Venus, carving out time to do the simplest things helps her prepare for her next round of challenges to tackle. “Athletes live very unbalanced lives,” she says. “For me, having a moment alone, and me watching something silly just for an hour or half an hour—and that kind of balances me out. It’s a silly, simple thing, but then it helps me get ready for the next day.”
Having a united front as a family is important when working towards your goals
As mentioned in this episode’s sneak peek, Venus and Serena’s half-sisters, Isha and Lyndrea Price, alongside the girls’ mother, Oracene Price, take seats at the table to join the conversation and share salient advice. Their mother leans on the importance of being a unit and the sacrifice and impact she had on her family, and especially on Venus and Serena’s success in tennis.
“It’s like [working] an assembly line,” Price says. “You have to be strong.” Quoting Colossians 3:14, “The perfect bond of union is love,” she adds, “You have to show that love, then you have to work together and bond it together, and the most important thing is no doubt and no fear. So I never doubted...you move forward to where your goal is. We had a goal, it wasn’t money, it was a way of life that we wanted for the girls.”
Venus, Serena, and their sisters acknowledge how much of a guiding light their mother was growing up
This inspirational family closed out their conversation with Smith imparting even more gems for families who want to achieve big dreams together. “Know your children. Know what they can do, know what they’re capable of,” Price says. “Push, but don’t push very hard. Encourage—make sure their mental health is fine because it’s all in the mental state of mind more than anything else.”
For Venus, she puts a bow on the episode, remembering an important lesson she was taught around needing strong support that she wishes for other families to have.
“My mom was really the guiding force, and you can see that through her words,” Venus shares. “That support should come within the family if possible. One of the best things that was ever told to us and why we’re so close is that your sisters are your best friends. We became each other’s biggest support because that’s what we were told to be. If you can keep your family together and make that support within, that’s the biggest support you’ll have in life.”
Press play to peep the full ‘Red Table Talk’ episode on Facebook Watch.
King Richard will be in theaters and available for streaming on HBO Max on Friday, Nov. 19.
Antoinette Isama is a multimedia culture journalist documenting the global African diaspora. Follow her @AntoinetteIsama.