Feb. 25, 2014
By Ben Brockman ’16
There are no names in American women’s tennis that quite compare to Venus and Serena Williams. The pair has been ranked No. 1 in the world both as individuals and as a doubles team, and the sister have combined for a total of 24 singles and 13 doubles Grand Slam titles.
Senior Britney Sanders and her twin sister, Nikki, a senior tennis player at Texas Tech, may be looking to take over the throne of best sister pair in the near future.
“Everyone always told my sister and I that we would be the next Venus and Serena,” Sanders says. “Anything is possible. I mean, I will try it.”
Sanders, Notre Dame’s No. 1 singles and doubles player, says her father got her and her sister involved in tennis at the age of five.
“He never played tennis, so I don’t not know why he chose tennis, but he did,” Sanders recalls. “He would take us out every day, my sister and I, and he would have to feed us balls because we couldn’t hit to each other.”
Sanders cites her father and his influence in both her life and her tennis career as one of the key factors in her success today.
“My parents split up when I was two years old, and my dad’s life has been my sister and I,” Sanders explains. “His dedication to making our lives successful is so inspiring. I want to be as dedicated as he is.”
While she didn’t always know how much she owed to her father, Sanders realizes now why he pushed her to be great.
“Growing up, I wanted to be a normal kid and hang out with my friends, but he knew that tennis would get me places,” she says. “He knew that in the long run it would be good for me, and it was. I am here now.”
While Britney and Nikki grew up playing together, when it was time to choose a university, the pair did not feel any pressure to go together.
“Especially senior year in high school, we kind of wanted to be our own person. Everyone referred to us as the twins. It was never Nikki and Britney,” Sanders says. “When we were looking at schools, if we ended up being together, great, but if not that was fine, too.”
While the Sanders sisters did choose to split up, Britney was able to bring her doubles partner, Julie Sabacinski, with her to Notre Dame. Sanders and Sabacinski’s relationship did not get off to a great start. The pair met at the age of 15, when they played against one another in a singles tournament.
“I was seeded pretty high and she wasn’t, so when she started beating me in the match I got really annoyed. She saw the anger and she kept doing the things that annoyed me,” Sanders says. “We did not like each other.”
But from this initial resentment as competitors on the court, a partnership started to grow between the two.
“She found out that she was friends with a lot of my friends,” Sanders remembers. “We met through our mutual friends and then within the next couple of months she asked me to play doubles with her.”
As a pair, Sabacinski and Sanders won a gold, silver and bronze ball, the highest awards in junior tennis, before heading to Notre Dame and playing as double partners until this year.
Building off of her stellar 2013 season, during which she was named BIG EAST Player of the Year, Sanders looks to make another trip to the NCAA Championships. It will not be an easy road for Sanders, though. Playing in the No. 1 spot, she will face tough competition week in and week out.
“Even with the easy teams, their No. 1 player will always be good,” she says. “I will never have an easy match.”
While Sanders realizes the difficulty that comes with her position, she also understands her responsibility to her teammates and coaches.
“I think my goal out there is not just to win the matches, obviously that is everybody’s goal. I want to show my teammates that I will fight to the end if I am losing,” Sanders says. “I just try to be a leader out there with my attitude.
“The No. 1 player is someone who is very professional on the court. They keep their attitude in line. That’s what I try to do.”
Sanders appreciates the educational aspect of Notre Dame, choosing to come here based on both its academic and athletic prowess, but she does not believe that she will be quite ready to join the professional world right out of college.
“I think I want to play tennis a little bit after college. I mean, I am young, if I can do it I might as well try,” Sanders says, leaving open the possibility of teaming up with her sister again.
After all, the Williams sisters aren’t going to dethrone themselves.