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"Would you hit a few more for me?"
Richard lobs the first of 10 balls about 100 feet into the rapidly darkening sky. Venus scans upward, shuffling around in a tight circle until the fuzzy yellow ball bounces behind her. "Ay," she groans, repeating the noise she makes whenever she Hubs a shot. She finds nine other lobs and neatly puts each one away.
"Thank you, Venus," her father says when they are done.
"You're welcome, Daddy," she replies, before running back to resume her chattering with Serena.
"I try to keep the pressure off so that they will always enjoy the game and think of it as fun," says Richard.
Richard says the income from his security-guard business and his wife's salary as a nurse is well above the median in Compton. However, finding the money to finance tennis dreams is a concern. One expense the family will probably not have to absorb is that of top-notch coaching. Nick Bollettieri, at whose Bradenton, Fla., camp Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Aaron Krickstein were developed into champions, is vying for the job, as are Rick Macci of Haines City, Fla., who coached Capriati for 2½ years, and several other coaches. If Venus ends up training full time at a tennis academy, she will receive a full scholarship. Richard is mulling over his options, though he's hesitant to leave Compton because he thinks that practicing and living amid the mayhem there has made Venus a tenacious player. So, he may have her work with a local pro. "Her skills have already passed me," says Richard. "I need someone to give her better practice and take her to the next level."
With so much expected of Venus at such a young age, every decision about her career that Richard makes from now on will be scrutinized. Already he is being given the third degree by strangers who see him as a fortune-seeking tennis father, while others have accused him of holding her back. He insists that money and fame aren't his primary concerns. "I'm not going to let Venus pass up her childhood," he says. "Long after tennis is over, I want her to know who she is."
He opens a desk drawer in his living room and pulls out Swee' Pea and Other Playground Legends, a book detailing the troubled basketball career of Lloyd Daniels, a former New York City playground star. "They said he was Magic [Johnson] with a jump shot, but he didn't go to class and then drugs took him," says Richard. "That will never happen with my kids. Venus has already read this book."
"Mr. Williams has a lot of common sense, and it's obvious that he is devoted to his children," says Ashe.