Serena 1994 alternate

As was often the case to this point in her life, the younger sister was following in the footsteps of her elder.

Nearly one year to the day prior, 14-year-old Venus Williams had made her pro tennis debut.

Now, on this day in 1995, it was 14-year-old Serena Williams’ turn. The tournament was the Bell Challenge, a WTA event played in Quebec City, Canada.

Serena had honed her game for years, first on public courts in Southern California, more recently at various facilities throughout Florida. Serena’s father Richard had initially entered his daughters in several junior tournaments. At one point, Serena was the No. 1-ranked 10-and-under player in Florida. But then, Richard curtailed Serena and Venus’ competitive careers. His belief was that it was much healthier to hone skills and maintain balance in life than to engage in a junior tennis environment that he viewed as toxic.

Unquestionably, Serena felt ready to compete. "I've practiced tennis since I was 4, and I practiced to play on the professional tour level, not the amateur, not the Tier 3 or 4 events," Serena said in a New York Times article. "I feel like I'm more ready than ever to get out here and compete with the professionals.”


Serena is pictured with sister Venus in October 1994.

Serena is pictured with sister Venus in October 1994.

A missed airport connection in Philadelphia, coupled with tough weather conditions, delayed the Williams family’s arrival at the tournament’s venue, a low-key tennis club. A new series of age-eligibility rules implemented by the WTA meant that this first pro match would take place in the qualifying event. Setting the scene, Robin Finn wrote in the New York Times, “There were no spotlights, no introductions, not even any fans. Her court was set a level below a smoky lounge that held a bar, a big-screen television, an ice cream cart and 50 or so onlookers with varying stages of interest in her fate."

Serena’s opponent was Annie Miller, an 18-year-old Bollettieri Academy graduate then ranked 149th in the world. As Miller told ESPN reporter Melissa Isaacson 20 years later, "Truth be told, even though Serena Williams would go on to be the best of all time, I was like, 'I should definitely beat her because I've been doing this for a while.’”

In less than an hour, Miller won, 6-1, 6-1. “I felt bad out there because I lost,” said Serena. “I didn’t play like I meant to play. I played kind of like an amateur.”

Serena would not play a WTA event in 1996. But in November 1997, in only her second WTA main draw appearance, she’d go all the way to the semis at a WTA event in Chicago, along the way beating a pair of top tenners, Mary Pierce and Monica Seles.