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Why Venus and Serena's first tennis coach calls 'King Richard' movie 'a masterpiece'

Michelle Kaufman, Miami Herald on

Published in Entertainment News

The sisters relied on their collective memories to recreate watching Disney movies and playing charades, writing in their journals at bedtime, singing in their Dad’s Volkswagen van, and practicing with flat, used balls on the littered public courts of Compton, California, while gang members cheered them on.

The writers and producers examined old video. They read memoirs by Richard and Serena. And they read the book “Macci Magic,” which the coach co-wrote with former Miami Herald tennis writer Jim Martz.

In that book, Macci recalls how he first heard about Venus, his first visit to Compton and his first impressions of the siblings (“Technically, they were a train wreck … but the way they competed was their X factor”), how he bought the Williams family a $92,000 motor home and later put them up in a house in Florida, and many rich details of their four years training with him. He also points out that the Williams family wound up owing him a lot of money. He considered suing, but they worked things out with a settlement and are on good terms.

Macci attended the red-carpet premiere of the film in Los Angeles, and said he shared laughs and many memories with Venus and Serena at the after party.

“The movie was so carefully done they even trained the girls how to hold and swing the racket the way Venus and Serena did back then because neither of those two actresses played tennis,” Macci said. “It was spot-on. It’s the best tennis movie, by far, ever, because the tennis part is right. And all the details about how the girls walked and talked and the mannerisms, all the little things, people would almost had to have been there to get it so right. It was mind-boggling to see.”

He said even the outfit Venus wore when she made her pro debut in Oakland was perfectly replicated. Also, the way she played in that unforgettable second-round match against then-No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

“She came to the net 33 times in that match, and they really emphasized that, before the bathroom break, how aggressive she was, swing volleys and approach shots,” Macci said. “They researched every detail.’’

The film crew flew from California to Haines City in Florida to see the Grenelefe Golf and Tennis Club, where Macci had his academy in the early 1990s and trained Andy Roddick, Jennifer Capriati and other champions. Macci, 66, now has his academy at the Boca Raton South County Regional Park, where he teaches more than 50 hours per week.

 

“How Richard acted in that movie, and how he thought, that’s exactly how he was,” said Macci.

Williams really did write a 78-page plan for his daughters’ rise to greatness before they were born after seeing a female tennis player on TV receive a $40,000 winner’s check. He really did demand that they practice at the crack of dawn and in the rain and that they learn multiple languages.

He really did pull his daughters out of junior tennis and tell Macci that “junior tennis parents should be shot.” He really did turn down a $3 million Nike contract offer for Venus when she was 14 (seven months later, Reebok signed her to a $12 million deal).

As the final credits roll, one is left thinking about Richard Williams’ complicated legacy. Was he an overbearing tyrant or was he just a loving, stubborn, unorthodox dreamer?

Probably a little of both. But one thing is not up for debate: His plan worked. His daughters are among the greatest athletes of all time and their rise from Compton to tennis royalty makes for a perfect Hollywood script.

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