“Never Played Tennis Before”: How King Richard Actress Became Venus Williams in 6 Months

Published 11/24/2021, 4:30 PM EST
Demi Singleton, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Saniyya Sidney attend the 2021 AFI Fest Closing Night Premiere screening for “King Richard” at TCL Chinese theatre in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 14, 2021. REUTERS/Ringo Chiu


The Williams sisters are undoubtedly one of the best-known sibling duos across the globe. Between the two of them, Venus Williams and Serena Williams share 30 singles and 16 doubles Grand Slam titles. They are, inarguably, two of the most dominant players in tennis.

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The upcoming movie ‘King Richard’ brings to light their struggle against all odds to become the legendary players that they are today. Two-time Oscar-nominee Will Smith plays Richard Williams in the movie.

16 Jan 1998: Teenage tennis sisters from America, Venus (left) and Serena Williams take time off a practice session to pose together during the Adidas International event at White City in Sydney, Australia. Mandatory Credit: Clive Brunskill/Allsport
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Venus Williams is played by Saniyya Sydney

Fifteen-year-old Saniyya Sydney, of American Horror Story fame, plays the role of a young Venus Williams. From the early reviews of the movie, both Saniyya and Demi Singleton (who plays Serena Williams) have garnered critical acclaim.

In an interview with Teen Vogue, Saniyya Sydney reveals the efforts she put into portraying Venus Williams. She described going through multiple rounds of auditions before finally auditioning with Will Smith himself. According to Saniyya, it was her instant chemistry with Smith that bagged her the role in the movie.

Saniyya talked in-depth about how she emulated the body language and mannerisms of Venus Williams, while also learning the sport from scratch.

“I trained for tennis, probably six months. I’d never played tennis before,” Sydney said. Furthermore, the young star had to adapt to playing the game right-handed, like Venus Williams, despite being left-handed herself.

Sydney spent months trying to mimic Venus’ serve alone. “For months, I started serving with air. I didn’t even use a tennis ball for a long time,” Sydney revealed.

“Venus told me to be who I am”: Saniyya Sidney

372178 06: FILE PHOTO: Richard Williams, center, with his daughters Venus, left, and Serena 1991 in Compton, CA. Serena and Venus Williams will be playing against each other for the first time July 6, 2000, in the tennis semifinals at Wimbledon. (Photo by Paul Harris/Online USA)

Talking about her personal takeaways from her role, Saniyya Sidney revealed how she developed a more confident gait. “Her posture was amazing… Very confident, very fierce walk,” Sidney says, before talking about how it has become her natural way of carrying herself.

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When the sisters met the two young actors portraying them, Sydney reveals what they told them. “They (Venus and Serena) were saying how thankful they were for us telling their story,” Sydney shared. Furthermore, she giggled as she revealed that the sisters gave the two young actors dating advice for their age, too.

“Venus would always say like be who you want to be and you know, be a beautiful woman in this sport. But at the same time know who you are,” Sydney stated.

Sydney also said she’ll continue playing tennis even after the movie, “I am gonna keep playing tennis… I will never switch to my left hand because it looks so wonky… I’m just going to stick to playing like Venus.”

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Undoubtedly, Saniyya Sydney’s portrayal of one of the most amazing women in sporting history has given her tonnes of life lessons to incorporate into her life.

DIVE DEEPER: King Richard Biopic: Are the Actresses Playing Venus and Serena Williams Sisters in Real Life?

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Samarveer Singh

29 articles

Samarveer Singh is a tennis writer at EssentiallySports. Holding a degree in English Literature and a diploma in Fitness Sciences and Training, Samarveer is obsessed with tennis and basketball. A collegiate athlete himself, Samarveer admires all sportspersons who put in the work in order to achieve excellence.

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