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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Famous Tennis Dad Writes, but Not About Tennis

Richard Williams stood outside his Midtown Manhattan hotel Monday afternoon, fighting a losing battle with a gusting wind as he attempted to keep a half-smoked cigarette lit. Passers-by who recognized Williams as the famous father of the tennis champions Venus and Serena asked if they could take a photograph. Each time, he obliged.

“I don’t dislike anything, and I like anything,” Williams said, using the coded riddles that often inform his conversations. “Whatever happens, I try to be who I am.”

I first met Williams in 2000, the year Venus won her first Wimbledon championship. He shooed me away at first, then relented one afternoon after Venus had defeated Serena in an emotional semifinal. We talked casually for half an hour, and when we finished, he told me that I had better not try to write a book. I assured him I would not. Fourteen years later, Williams has written his own.

He is in New York this week to promote his memoir, “Black and White: The Way I See It.” I wondered how Williams, 72, could fit such a rich life into fewer than 300 pages. In fact, Williams said, he has completed several books on multiple aspects of his and his family’s lives. This is the only one that has been published.

“The only reason I released this is because these last seven years, Serena kept pushing me,” Williams said. “She said, ‘Publish something; I don’t care which one.’ I was about to burn them.”

This is not a book about how Williams made his daughters into tennis champions, and it is not a how-to book.

“This is about my life,” he said. ”A lot of people thought I was writing about a bunch of tennis, backhands and forehands. This is about my life, and tennis was not part of my life growing up. I think there are enough books about tennis.”

Odd as it sounds, given his reputation for offering unfiltered opinions, Williams said he had wanted to write a book that would set the record straight.

“You can’t allow anyone to determine where you stand or where you go or how you’re going to turn out,” he said. “I’ve never done that in my life.”
With that, Williams abruptly excused himself and headed out to the front of his hotel. He had said his piece, and now he wanted to finish his cigarette, his favorite Chesterfield.

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