Killing brings the sisters' past back to haunt them

Fairytale story of two girls raised to be tennis stars lies in tatters as a close-knit family comes to terms with its grief

It lasted for perhaps a minute, or less. And no one yet knows what it was about. But for some reason, a man and a woman in a sports utility vehicle got into an altercation with local residents on a street in Compton, a rough district just south of Los Angeles. And someone drew a gun and then fired it.

The bullets hit the upper torso of the woman. Police officers arrived quickly and she was rushed to a nearby hospital. But there was nothing that could be done, and before dawn had broken in America yesterday the woman had died. Her name was Yetunde Price and she was 31 years old.

The world would hardly have known about the shooting, but for one thing: Ms Price was an older sister of Serena and Venus Williams, the power pair of the women's tennis circuit. Suddenly, it was no ordinary shooting in Compton. For the police, it means this is one murder that must be solved.

"They heard multiple gunshots," said Scott Butler, a sheriff's deputy, describing the first reaction of police officers who converged on the scene. "They discovered that a man and woman who were driving a white SUV-type vehicle became involved in a confrontation. We are trying to piece together the evidence to find out exactly what happened."

The man who had been with her in the SUV wasn't injured and was being interviewed by authorities, said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Pena.

Sheriff's deputies searching for three people believed to be involved in the shooting surrounded a house in Compton yesterday afternoon, but it turned out to be empty.

No arrests had been made by last night.Venus and Serena's agent, Carlos Fleming, said the family was en route to California. Serena had been in Toronto to film a guest role in a cable television drama.

The fairytale story of two girls raised to play tennis like no other women on earth is suddenly in tatters. The glitz and the glamour of countless tournament trophies, of commercial endorsements, of fashion lines and even of burgeoning acting careers is suddenly eclipsed by grief.

Two weeks ago, Venus, 23, was looking forward to another decade of tennis celebrity. "I'm not going anywhere," she told reporters in New York. "I like what I do. I'm not retiring before 33."

Serena, 21, who pulled out of the US Open this year because of a knee injury, agreed she would do the same.

Both sisters have lines of designer clothes, Venus heads an interior decorating company and Serena has high hopes for an acting career. But whatever their ambitions, all will come to a halt, at least for now, as they mourn a lost older sibling who worked for them as a personal assistant.

The parents of the Williams' sisters, Richard and Oracene Williams, moved the family to Florida when Venus and Serena were young and it was there that they nurtured them as future stars, imposing a disciplined routine of training camps and practice.

What the family rarely talked about was their upbringing in the Compton district of Los Angeles, an urban area with a long history of gun violence and gang confrontations.

Venus and Serena, the youngest of the five sisters, have won more than £16m between them in prize money and millions more from advertising and endorsements. They share a house in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Their mother, Oracene, is now estranged from their father, a share-cropper's son from Louisiana, and has reverted to her maiden name, Price. A former nurse, she accompanies Venus and Serena to tournaments, and Yetunde would often be seen in the players' guest box alongside Oracene and their other sisters, Lyndrea and Isha.

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