Williams was born in Lynwood, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, on June 17, 1980, the fourth of five daughters born to Richard and Oracene (nicknamed Brandi) Williams. Sister Serena, the last of the five Williams sisters, was born in September 1981. Her father ran a private security firm in Compton and was a dedicated fan of tennis, who became hooked on the game by watching televised coverage of professional tournaments, told his wife that he wanted to make tennis stars out of his daughters. He had little luck with his older girls—Isha, Lyndrea, and Yetunde—none of whom showed any particular aptitude for the game. His efforts proved far more successful with Venus and Serena, both of whom turned out to be naturals on the court. The girls learned the game on nearby Compton municipal courts, frequently having to take cover to avoid being hit by stray gunfire from the gang violence that gripped the city. As Richard Williams schooled Venus and Serena in the finer points of the game, their mother,
a devout Jehovah's Witness, home-schooled her daughters, all of whom adopted her faith and became active members of the church.
Venus began playing tennis when she was only 4 years old. By the time she was 7, she had come to the attention of tennis great John McEnroe and Pete Sampras, both of whom encouraged her to continue to pursue the game. At the tender age of 10, Venus was ranked the number one player in the keenly competitive under-12 division of Southern California, a ranking inherited not long thereafter by younger sister Serena. So strong was Venus's game as a pre-teen that she won 63 consecutive matches without a single loss. Word of her talent reached the media, and in the summer of 1991 both Sports Illustrated and Tennis ran stories about the amazing tennis prodigy from the mean streets of Compton. All the publicity was accompanied by growing criticism of Richard Williams' singleminded focus on making Venus into a tennis star with little regard for giving her any semblance of a normal childhood. The criticism hit home with Venus's father, who told Sports Illustrated: "I'd like for the racket to stay out of her hand for a while. Venus is still young. We want her to be a little girl while she is a little girl. I'm not going to let Venus pass up her childhood. Long after tennis is over, I want her to know who she is." In 1991 Williams pulled both Venus and Serena out of junior tennis competition and moved the family to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.