The movie King Richard tells the true story of the unusual childhood of tennis champions Serena and Venus Williams, but ends just two matches into Venus's pro career, and before Serena has ever played a professional match. What's more, the movie ends after a loss. King Richard's ending shows how the movie focuses more on the emotional journey that the family went through than the story of sports success.
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and produced by the Williams sisters themselves, King Richard stars Will Smith as the eccentric Richard Williams. The film depicts Richard as a man with a master plan for his daughters' athletic stardom that he never wavered from. Richard courted public controversy and professional doubts for his approach, which included taking his daughters out of competitive juniors tournaments and insisting on his idiosyncratic coaching style. King Richard has received largely positive reviews, with Will Smith touted as an Oscar contender.
King Richard's ending takes place at the 1994 Bank of the West Classic, a WTA Tour tournament still in existence today. It's Venus's first professional match, but she's already received massive media attention and a $3 million sponsorship offer due to both her evident talent and Richard's involvement with the media. Venus overcomes a shaky start to win her first-round match-up, with sets up a match with World No.1 Aranxta Sanchez Vicario. This match proves to be the star-making opportunity that the Williams have been waiting for, but it doesn't go entirely her way.
Why Venus Lost in King Richard
Venus jumps out to an early lead in her match with Vicaria, winning the first set and going up a break of serve in the second, which like the rest of King Richard is a true story. A frustrated Vicaria takes a long bathroom break. When she returns, Venus loses her serve and is never able to get back into the match, ultimately losing the third set 6-0. Viewers who aren't familiar with tennis may be surprised that a short break could cause such a change of momentum.
However, this kind of shift is not that unusual in the sport. Because it is a one-on-one sport that usually has no on-court coaching, players at even the highest level struggle to maintain mental focus and form. In particular, young and inexperienced players may succumb to nerves or burn out their energy early, leading to a loss from a dominant position. For instance, early in her career, Naomi Osaka gave up a 5-1 lead in the third set against Madison Keys in the US Open. Vicaria's use of a bathroom break is another thing that may have caused Venus Williams—played by Saniyya Sidney in the film—to lose focus, and remains a controversial element of tennis rules today.
Why Bathroom Breaks Are Still An Issue In Tennis
As Rick Macci notes in King Richard, tennis rules allow for players to take a bathroom break with no time limit. This has led to many incidents where players are suspected of taking a break for tactical purposes. For instance, controversy erupted in the 2021 US Open when Stefanos Tsitsipas took a lengthy bathroom break during his match with Andy Murray, which preceded a Tsitsipas comeback. Tsitsipas took the same type of break in his following match and was booed by the audience for it. The controversy led to tennis's governing bodies openly discussing a change to the rule.
Why King Richard Ends After Venus's First Tournament
There are many triumphant moments in the Williams sisters' careers, but King Richard chooses to end after Venus's first professional tournament—and, like the original Rocky, it ends with a loss. This decision reflects the scope of the narrative. As the title suggests, King Richard is the story of Richard Williams' fight to make his daughter into tennis stars. Venus's arrival on the WTA reflects the beginning of her and Serena's stories, but the end of Richard's. Having prepared his daughters for success, Richard must accept becoming a secondary figure. This is signified in Venus's match when Richard leaves the backstage area and sits in the stands with his family as just another spectator, vindicated in his approach.
What Happened To Richard Williams After King Richard
Richard Williams continued to be an advocate for his daughters and frequently appeared at courtside as they rose through the tennis world. In one memorable moment, after Venus won the Wimbledon championship in 2000, Richard yelled "Straight Outta Compton"—which is not the N.W.A. song on King Richard's soundtrack—and jumped over the broadcaster's booth onto the court. As time went on, however, Richard began to step away from the tennis world. Richard divorced Oracene in 2002, and married his third wife Lakeisha Graham, which raised eyebrows as she is only a year older than Richard's daughter Venus. In 2016, Richard suffered the first of a series of strokes. Today, his life and condition are largely private.
Venus & Serena Williams' Careers After King Richard
Venus and Serena Williams both had historic tennis careers after the events of King Richard. Venus became a 5-time Wimbledon champion and 2-time US Open winner, along with a singles Olympic gold medal. Serena has had an even more impressive career, winning 23 singles grand slam titles, the most of any player in the Open Era, and become a major media figure, having cameos in Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Simpsons, ER, and many other TV shows and movies.
The two sisters played against each other in nine Grand Slam finals, most recently in the 2017 Australian Open. Together, they have won every Grand Slam title and two Olympic gold medals in doubles. Venus and Serena are still active professional players today in their 40s, with Serena having reached four Grand Slam finals since returning from giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia in 2017. Their career longevity has been attributed in part to the more selective tournament schedule that Richard encouraged.
King Richard True Story: How Accurate The Movie Is
The most dramatic events in King Richard, such as Richard's detailed plan for his daughters, his confrontations with local gang members, and a teenage Venus's match with the World No. 1, all really happened. Like all biopics, however, there is a lot of material excluded. Some King Richard reviewers have noticed that the movie paints an overly positive portrait of Richard Williams, mentioning but not depicting in detail elements like the brutal training schedule he set, his grandiose business plans that didn't come to fruition, and the family he abandoned before marrying Oracene. For instance, in one scene Oracene mentions an encounter with Richard's older son, but he actually had five children from his first marriage, and at least one out of wedlock. King Richard ends with title cards listing Venus and Serena's accomplishments, and "Just as Richard predicted", suggesting that his eccentricity was justified by his daughters' success, but not all of his ambitions ended so inspirationally.
Regardless, Richard's methods of bringing up Venus and Serena were influential. For instance, 3-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka's father intentionally modeled his approach after Richard's, and many up-and-coming players such as Coco Gauff have cited the Williams sisters as inspirations. With media ranging from ESPN to Ted Lasso addressing mental health in sports, many professionals have also adopted Richard's approach of playing a lighter tournament schedule, both as juniors and as adults. The ending of King Richard shows the beginning of the Williams sister's success, but Richard Williams' unusual philosophy has had a widespread impact that is still being felt today.