Serena Williams was born in Saginaw, Michigan, to Richard Williams and Oracene Price. She is the youngest of Price's five daughters: half-sisters Yetunde (1972–2003), Lyndrea, and Isha Price, and full sister Venus. When the children were young, the family moved to the city of Compton in Los Angeles county, where Williams started playing tennis at the age of five. She and her sister, Venus, were home-schooled by her father.
Williams' family moved from Compton to West Palm Beach when she was nine so that she could attend the tennis academy of Rick Macci, who would provide additional coaching. Macci spotted the exceptional talents of the sisters, and though he did not always agree with Williams' father, he respected that "he treated his daughters like kids, allowed them to be little girls." When Williams was ten, her father stopped sending her and her sisters to national junior tennis tournaments, since he wanted them to take it slow and focus on school work. Another motivation was racial, as he had allegedly heard parents of white players talk about the Williams sisters in a derogatory manner during tournaments. At that time, Williams had a 46–3 record on the United States Tennis Association junior tour and was ranked No. 1 among under ten players in Florida. In 1995, Richard pulled his daughters out of Macci's academy, and from that point on he took over all coaching at their home. When asked in 2000 whether having followed the normal path of playing regularly on the junior circuit would have been beneficial, Williams responded: "Everyone does different things. I think for Venus and I, we just tried a different road, and it worked for us."