“I’d love to say I’m from Africa, but we’re from the United States and we’re proud to be from there as well,” she told newsmen in Lagos on Wednesday, after a Nigerian reporter asked if perhaps she was originally from Nigeria.
“But my Mom named my sister (Venus) after an African name,” she hastily added.
The Williams sisters and their mother are in Nigeria this week to promote women’s tennis and empowerment of women on the continent.
For Venus, it is her first time in Africa.
Taking their own successes in women’s tennis, a sport which before them was dominated by white players, the sisters want to inspire women in the African continent to take up the sport and, more generally, to pursue their dreams despite whatever odds they face in male dominated societies.
“We were able to break the mould and win a lot of grand slams and change the face of tennis … when tennis was very dominated by white people,” 31-year-old Serena said three days after beating rival Maria Sharapova in the final of the WTA Championships in Istanbul.
“It doesn’t matter what your background is and where you come from, if you have dreams and goals, that’s all that matters,” she added.
The sisters later conducted tennis classes with some children at a Lagos sports club.
On Thursday [today], they will visit a school to discuss empowerment of girls then on Friday they will play an exhibition match against each other.
“We’re very excited to be playing tennis here,” Venus said.
“Of all the finals everywhere … this will be our final here in Nigeria.
“I don’t know who’s going to win but Serena just won the championship so I know she’s ready. I’ll have to play my best tennis.”
Inspiring young people
Earlier on the Williams sisters had paid a courtesy visit to the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola at Lagos House, Marina.
During the visit, Mr Fashola expressed hope that the visit of the award winning lawn tennis players would be a monumental turning point in inspiring young people to pursue their dreams the way the Williams sisters have done.
The governor said the Williams sisters have been a source of inspiration to many people for different things that they represent not just in terms of sports but also charity work they engage in and the image they cut.
He said there is a lot of work to be done in Nigeria with young people such as getting them back on track and providing opportunities to them.
He added that many people might not have realized how large a followership the Williams enjoy in Nigeria until the news broke on Tuesday night that they would be coming to Lagos because he received lots of enquiries and text messages about their programme in Lagos and messages the people want him to pass across to them.
Mr Fashola said part of the questions people would have loved to ask is whether they would be opening a tennis school in Lagos, if they are going to help young people and bring back tennis into prominence as well as speaking up on women rights issues.
According to the Governor, however, the biggest thing that they have done and which many people will benefit from is the inspiration and hope in what they are doing, stating that Lagos used to be the greatest tennis centre in the sub region which had about three to four ITF Tournaments years ago.
He recalled that Nigeria once had a player named Nduka Odizor who was in the last 16 of Wimbledon, saying the Tennis club where the sisters would be playing on is 117 years old which is a lot of history about what has happened in the world of Tennis in the State.
The Governor added that the present administration has taken the initiative over the last decade to begin to build it back, saying there is also a Governor’s Cup Annual Tennis Tournament which is an ITF tournament commenced by his predecessor that the present administration has kept faith with.
He also said the tournament which the final was played last week Saturday enjoys a lot of sponsorship with representatives of about 55 countries coming to participate.
The Governor who formally welcomed the two sisters to Lagos on behalf of the government and good people of Lagos said they are one of the most prominent faces in the world of sports.
Speaking earlier, Venus expressed happiness at being in Lagos, saying her mother and sisters are in Nigeria and looking forward to their match and being inspired by women in Nigeria.
Also speaking, Serena thanked the organizers for facilitating the visit, adding that though they have been in Africa before, this is there first time in Nigeria. She added that this represents a great opportunity for both of them.
She expressed hope that they would share their realized dreams with the people, saying they are inspired as the people are.