Seattle’s Quinn Sanders, 14, and SkyeDior Nelson, 10, know the story of another pair of sisters, Venus and Serena Williams, very well.
The lethal serves, the raw power. The childhood in Compton, California, and an unheard-of path to stardom that didn’t include junior tennis. The mother who coached them, the older siblings who supported them, and the father with an unusual — and ambitious — plan.
“Every member in [Serena’s] family played a role in her success. That’s just like in my family,” Nelson said.
“My sister helped me, just like Serena and Venus.”
And at the Pratt Park Sports Court in the Central District, they’re applying some of what the Williamses taught the sports world.
The sisters refer to themselves as “GLOW girls,” involved with an apprenticeship and leadership program for girls of color in grades 8-11 in Seattle.
Another person hoping to grow the Seattle tennis community, former WTA Tour player Vania King, grew up in Southern California with heavy influence from the Williams sisters. She said they had somewhat similar backgrounds, and her father was inspired by Richard Williams. Richard remembered her, said hello and checked in whenever they crossed paths at tournaments.
King won the Wimbledon and US Open women’s double titles in 2010 with Yaroslava Shvedova. They also reached the final of the 2011 US Open.
She faced Serena in singles twice in the US Open Round of 64, in 2014 and 2016. Serena won both.
“It was kind of a surreal experience doing that,” King said. “She has changed my life and countless other little girls and families’ lives.
“Someone that could break the barriers of sports. Prior to that, there was no one really that fit the mold that someone like myself could identify with.”
King retired from playing last year and is the founder and executive director of Serving Up Hope, which partnered with YMCA of Greater Seattle. She assists with training and helps start tennis programs.
King called the tennis community in Seattle “quite small” but supportive. She’s part of a group with monthly brainstorming calls.
“Figuring out ways, collaboratively, to grow together, which is frankly unusual in tennis,” King said. “Trying our best to provide resources and work together.”
In on those monthly calls is Rylee Hafitz, managing director of the Seattle Tennis and Education Foundation (STEF), which provides free programming to low-income families living in and near Magnuson Park. The program tries to lessen the stigma of tennis being a rich, elite sport, and make it as accessible as possible to anyone who wants to try. STEF gives PowerPoint presentations at schools, and Hafitz said Serena is the most recognizable pro tennis player by far.
She was also a role model for Hafitz.
“I think she’s been incredibly inspiring and powerful. Made it be about: Women who are strong are beautiful, women who are strong are great,” Hafitz said.
Aside from the obvious benefits — socialization, mental and physical health — an objective of these programs is creating a pipeline to high-school tennis. Sanders is open to joining the Garfield High team as a freshman in the spring. That’s in the distance for Nelson, who has been playing a little over a year. The backhand is getting stronger.
Even though she’s the younger sister, she favors older-sister Venus.
“She looks like me. She’s a fast hitter, and I love her confidence,” Nelson said.
Sanders and Nelson’s mother, Quisa Wright, got a request for a new and active hobby a few weeks after the family watched “King Richard,” the Oscar-winning movie about the Williams family and early years.
That’s how they met Christina Broadwin, program director at the nonprofit Sports in Schools. Broadwin asked Wright to help find potential recruits for Girls Leading Our World (GLOW), an eight-week program at Amy Yee Tennis Center, where she’s an instructor. The program is free, with the idea that the registrants would pay it forward by coaching younger players.
Wright asked around and was surprised by the enthusiasm.
“You never know with children of color what’s going to land, what’s going to spark your interest, especially because you don’t see it a lot in your community,” Wright said. “So that took me back. But there was a really great response.”
GLOW supplied the family with tennis rackets and balls, and now the GLOW girls play with Wright and their brother at Pratt Park. It gets competitive, but everyone helps each other.
On Friday Sanders kept score and doled out tips as “Team Yin and Yang” — she and her brother — played doubles against Nelson and her friend, “The Dramatic Besties.” They weathered the frustrations and leaned on family, as the Williams sisters once did.
King had an enviable recent vantage point of Serena’s potential last grand slam, doing broadcast work for the US Open World Feed.
“Venus and Serena both were so dynamic and vibrant and really brought something new to the game,” King said. “From a practical standpoint, they transformed the game in terms of athleticism and power. So really brought the game into a new era.”
Serena and Venus reunited for their first doubles match in more than four years, 25 years after their debut as a pair at the tournament, in the first round of the US Open on Sept. 1. They lost 7-6 (5), 6 -4 to Lucie Hradecka and Linda Noskova.
Wright’s planned watch party that Sunday was scrapped on Sept. 2 when Serena was eliminated in the third round by Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1. It was the most-watched tennis telecast in ESPN’s 43-year history. An average of 4.6 million viewers tuned in.
It is expected to be her final contest.
“I’m sad, but I’m also excited, because I also get to see new players,” Nelson said.
However, you never forget your first favorite.
“Nobody does it better,” Sanders said.
Want to try tennis?
Tennis Aces program
A free, six-week program for middle schoolers in Seattle with emphasis on schools with the highest percentage of students who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. Racquets are provided to keep. Classes meet twice per week after school with a final “Jamboree,” where players represent their schools.
“The barriers for this sport are very low, actually. But there’s a stigma that it’s not for people of color, the BIPOC community, that it’s more of a white person’s sport,” Amy Yee Tennis Center instructor and Sports in Schools program director Christina Broadwin said. “That’s just not true. You just need a racquet and a ball and a wall – and a friend, maybe. It’s one of the most accessible sports out there, or it should be. We’re trying to make some inroads there.”
Each fall more than 100 kids join the program, which is funded through donations and grants. See a list of schools and more at sportsinschools.org.
The Seattle Tennis and Education Foundation (STEF) offers free, twice-weekly programming at Magnuson Park for 2nd through 6th graders who qualify for free or reduced lunch. No prior tennis knowledge is required and all program materials are provided.
See stef4youth.org for more information.
Serving Up Hope
With programs in Uganda, Los Angeles, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and Seattle, this organization founded by retired pro tennis player Vania King offers starter tennis programming at Matt Griffin YMCA (SeaTac) and Northshore YMCA (Bothell), according to servinguphope .org. See the site for age groups and fall dates.
CLARIFICATION: Quisa Wright and her children play at the Pratt Park Sports Court, not tennis courts as originally reported.