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Chris Chase

Picture of the day: 11-year-old Venus Williams is stylin'

Chris Chase
Busted Racquet

Back before can-can corset dresses and see-through skirts, Venus Williams was sporting a flat-brimmed "Compton" hat and a T-shirt emblazoned with "MAD DADS."

Courtesy the must-follow SI Vault Twitter feed (@si_vault):

View photo

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Venus was already in the news by the time this picture was snapped sometime in 1991. Her first mention in a national newspaper came 20 days before she turned 10 years old:

The Los Angeles Times -- May 27, 1990:

In the second annual "Youth vs. Experience" championships at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, the older players won 14 matches to 10 for the younger players. Alex Olmedo won one for the experienced players, defeating Philip Tseng of Los Angeles, 6-3, 6-4, but Dodo Cheney of Santa Monica was defeated by the younger Venus Williams of Compton, 6-1, 6-0. [As my sister pointed out, Dodo Cheney, 1938 Australian Open winner, was 73-years-old at the time of that match. -- CC]

Other newspapers took note:

The New York Times -- July 3, 1990:

At a time when tennis prodigies seem to be surfacing every week, the latest hot prospect is a 10-year-old Californian, Venus Williams.

Last weekend, Williams captured her 17th singles title in less than a year by winning the age-10-or-under Southern California junior sectional championships. [...]

"The most games Venus has lost in a set is two or three," [Richard Williams] said in a recent interview. Asked why he had encouraged his five children to pursue tennis, he replied, "I was so flabbergasted at the amount of money paid out to professional players that Mrs. Williams and I thought the best thing we could do for our children is to give them the ability to play tennis."

"A lot of sponsors are standing in line now," he said. "Wilson, Prince, Reebok. They all want to do more for V. Better clothing, more racquets. They call us more. They stop by to see us. Most everyone thinks V will be No. 1 by 1995 or '96." [Venus hit No. 1 for the first time in 2002. -- CC]

The St. Petersburg Times (headline: "The Next Capriati") -- Dec. 9, 1990

Venus Williams is straight outta Compton. [Only took four months for writers to make the first, obvious NWA reference. That's not a criticism, by the way. I'd have probably only taken two. -- CC]

USA Today -- Aug. 26, 1991

The calls have been coming, from potential agents, coaches, etc., since Venus Williams was 7, but the tennis phenom, now 11, is more serious about family, religion and education.

''I just want to be a normal kid,'' the straight-A student from Compton, Calif., recently told USA Weekend.

She also wants to be an astronaut.

On her current course, she's hardly going to be traveling in outer space. Venus is Southern California's top-ranked 12-and-under player; sister Serena, 9, holds the same distinction in the 10-and-under class.

''We've been offered $3.6 million for the two girls by people who just wanted to invest,'' said Richard Williams, the girls' father-coach-strategist. ''We turned it down. It would (be like) prostituting the kids.''

Later that year Richard pulled Venus from national tournaments and earned criticism for the move. Ah, the benefit of hindsight. Can't imagine too many people still think Mr. Williams made the wrong move.

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