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All hail Queen Oracene

Having coached winners of 30 grand slams over 3 decades, Oracene Price's immense contribution to the world of tennis renders her worthy of a plush spot on the International Tennis Hall of Fame
Thu, Jul 01, 2021

Oracene Price at Wimbledon 2021. PHOTO: John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

The fact that there is no recognised name for Serena Williams fans is a human failure, but whatever the moniker for 'Rena' stans, it is not inconceivable to say that the majority of them cried – both inside Wimbledon's Centre Court and in many living rooms worldwide – along with the GOAT as she stumbled out of the tournament in the first round.

Just 33 minutes in, there was a collective groan from the crowd, while her coach Patrick Mouratoglou and husband Alexis Ohanian, long-time agent Jill Smoller, and sister Isha, watched on in disbelief (this has never happened to Serena in London).

The only individual inside the 15,000-seater arena who appeared unruffled was Oracene Price who, earlier in the day, could be seen looking equally phlegmatic while Venus Williams eventually defeated Mihaela Buzarnescu. It was almost as if she was wondering why she had to sit through 2 hours and 37 minutes of that 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 win for Venus.

But when you have been a sports mom-cum-coach-cum-psychologist for as long as she has, who can begrudge her for thinking to herself: "I've allowed you to turn my car into a stinky portable locker room for far too long for you to repay me by making such rubbish unforced errors?"

Somehow, even now that her ex-husband Richard Williams no longer travels around the world to support their superstar daughters, and both athletes move around with big support staff, Oracene has still stoically sat through – especially in the recent years – most of these emotionally hellish on-court moments we've experienced.

Perhaps, while the rest of us have wept along with Serena and Venus after heartbreaking defeats and injuries, an unperturbed Oracene (whose ex-husband could sometimes be impetuous) showed us how she's managed to keep the girls from burnout. In bringing pragmatism and composure, she's been able to balance the undoubtedly febrile and chaotic environment that follows athletes as popular as her girls.

Decades ago, when the pair were beginning to shake the table, they endured criticisms for staying away from the rest of the players in the locker room. But could you blame a mother for protecting her cubs from a hostile environment? It's a story told repeatedly that tennis didn't widely embrace Venus and Serena.

Their adornment of hair beads was intentional.

"I wanted them to be women of colour and be proud of who they are and not let anyone make them ashamed of it, and that was the main purpose of the beads. It showed their heritage and where they come from," said Oracene in the 2012 documentary, Venus and Serena.

Yet, Oracene is not just a cog in the Williams machine. She has been more than just a counsellor. She has been an extraordinary and valuable presence in the unexpected sporting empire centred on two black girls hailing from California's notorious city of Compton.

Any story told about how they managed to amass 122 singles titles (as well as 14 Grand Slam doubles titles, two Olympic gold medals in singles and three Olympic gold medals in doubles) and over $136 million in prize money should not only extol Richard Williams but Oracene, too. When the conversation around contributions to the sport comes up, the latter is an afterthought. In 2017, Richard was inducted into the American Tennis Association’s Hall of Fame and the Black Tennis Hall of Fame.

On two occasions – in her autobiography and in the above-mentioned documentary – Serena makes it clear how critical both parents were in shaping her and her big sister.

"She [Oracene] was never pulling while my dad was pushing, and I think that was really, really important. I would describe it as my dad being the body and my mum being the spine – neither one could exist without the other. I just think the teamwork was unbelievable," she once said.

In her rather premature memoir, My Life (the dozen years since it was first published have been far more eventful and arresting), Rena writes: "My parents taught themselves the game so they could teach it to us… and what a lot of people don't realise is my mom was with him every step of the way. This was her deal, too.

"It wasn't just that she supported my dad's vision. She saw what he saw; she wanted what he wanted; she worked for it just as much as he did. She had her own ideas on how we should train – and even now, she's one of the best at helping to break down my game and figure out what's working and what's not. When I was little, I actually spent more time hitting with my mom than I did with my dad."

If and when the International Tennis Hall of Fame decide to recognise the incredible contribution of this family to the growth and promotion of this sport, I hope they don't overlook Queen Oracene 'I'm so unbothered, I'm so unbothered' Price.


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