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Last Updated: Monday, 15 September, 2003, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
Sister was 'rock' behind Williams success

By Rachel Clarke
BBC News Online in Washington

To much of the world, the Williams Sisters are just Venus and Serena - the girls pushed to tennis greatness by their father Richard.

But the shooting death of their elder sister Yetunde has renewed attention in the rest of the family.

Yetunde Price, murdered sister of Venus and Serena Williams
Yetunde Price was a role model for her sisters
A statement from the Williams family credited Yetunde Price - who used her mother's maiden name - with a key role in the success of Venus and Serena.

"As the oldest sibling and daughter, it was Yetunde who provided the stability to our family," they said.

"She was our nucleus and our rock. She was personal assistant, confidant, and adviser to her sisters, and her death leaves a void that can never be filled."

Price, 31, was in the great family gathering which packed the relatives' box at Wimbledon this year to watch another all-Williams final.

She worked part-time as personal assistant to the champions and she was backstage at her youngest sister's side after Serena won a best female athlete award in July.

But mostly she seems to have stayed out of the limelight, and not far from the gang-riddled Los Angeles neighbourhood where the family once lived and where she was shot to death at the weekend.

Ghetto and gunshots

Richard Williams once said he had deliberately moved the family to Compton to teach the girls a valuable lesson.

"I wanted to live in the worst ghetto in the world so they could see all the bad that can happen to you if you don't get an education," he said.

The Compton crime scene
Compton has a murder rate four times the national average
Venus and Serena have talked often about how they developed their on-court concentration by ignoring the sounds of gunshots which disturbed their practice sessions in the suburb south of Los Angeles.

Tennis became part of family life after Richard Williams joined and later married Oracene, who had three daughters - Yetunde, Isha and Lyndrea.

The young Yetunde was said to be good at the game, but greatness beckoned for the two daughters Oracene and Richard had together.

In 1991, the family moved to Florida so Venus and later Serena could get the best coaching and the best facilities.

But Price, who trained as a nurse like her mother, later moved back to the West Coast, most recently living in a new two-storey house in the neat town of Corona, 40 miles from Compton.

She cared for patients in their homes and had recently opened a beauty salon with a school friend. Divorced, she lived with her three children - Jeffrey, 11; Justus, nine; and Jair, five.

Family and friends described her as welcoming her sisters' success without envy and of remaining down-to-earth despite the attention and millions of dollars generated by Venus and Serena.

Reports said Price insisted on paying her own air fare when she travelled to see her family in Florida and of devoting herself to her own children.

"I can't believe it. There's not one evil thing you could say about this girl. She never hurt any person. She was a quiet person," a friend, Sheriee Brown, 32, of Compton, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Trusted adviser

She appears to have been a role model for Venus and Serena - eight and nine years younger - and to have maintained her influence, perhaps even seeing it enhanced as Richard Williams stayed away from this year's Wimbledon.

When Venus was injured and in pain after the semi-final, she turned to her sisters - including Price - for advice on whether to carry on in the tournament.

While her eldest sister may have encouraged Venus on that occasion, there is already speculation that Price's death may delay the return to competitive tennis of both injury-hit sisters.

As the close-knit family come together to grieve in Los Angeles there are even suggestions that the tragedy may even provide the impetus for the champions to abandon the courts for other careers.

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