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31 OCT 1994: VENUS WILLIAMS, 14, OF THE USA IN ACTION TONIGHT DURING HER PROFESSIONAL DEBUT AT THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC IN OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA. WILLIAMS PLAYED SHAUN STAFFORD OF THE USA, RANKED #59 IN THE WORLD. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello/ALLSPORT

Venus Williams Made Her Professional Debut 23 Years Ago

OAKLAND, CA, USA - On October 31, 1994, one of the greatest careers in tennis history began, as a 14-year-old Venus Williams made her professional debut at the Bank Of The West Classic.

And it was a winning professional debut, as well. As an unranked wildcard into the draw, Venus outslugged the No.58-ranked player in the world at the time, Shaun Stafford, in straight sets, 6-3 6-4.

Stafford recently spoke to San Jose’s The Mercury News about playing Venus that day.

“To this day, my brother-in-law will introduce me to people and say, ‘Shaun is the first person ever to play Venus Williams,’” she commented. “It was fun to be a part of that.”

Amazingly, Venus nearly took out the No.2-ranked player in the world in the next round - she was up 6-2 3-1 on Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario before the Spaniard rallied to win in three sets, 2-6 6-3 6-0.

But her star had already risen, and it was only a matter of time before she made her unforgettable first breakthrough run at a major, going all the way to her first final at the 1997 US Open. The Top 10 followed soon after, followed by seven Grand Slam titles in her 20s - five at Wimbledon (2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008) and two at the US Open (2000 and 2001). She reached World No.1 in 2002.

Even more amazingly, 15 years after first rising to No.1, she’s still knocking on the door of No.1 - she’s currently ranked No.5 in the world, at age 37 no less, and she’s within 600 points of the current No.1, Simona Halep. It all comes on the heels of a phenomenal 2017 season that saw her reach the final of three of the five biggest events of the year - the Australian Open, Wimbledon and WTA Finals.

“I’ve definitely had a lot of wins this year,” Venus said after finishing runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki at the WTA Finals. “I’ve had a lot of wins that were satisfying, and that’s always what I’m going for.”

Now, Venus will begin preparations for 2018 - but for now, let’s take a look back at Venus’ pro debut:

And here are a few throwbacks to the day Venus made that pro debut - October 31, 1994:
~ Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf were the World No.1s.
~ Andre Agassi and Sanchez-Vicario had just won their first US Open titles.
~ Garbine Muguruza was one year old; Madison Keys wasn’t born yet.
~ And this was the No.1 song in America:

Read more articles by John Berkok

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