Tennis-playing teen from Bakersfield has a part in 'King Richard'

Posted at 11:23 PM, Nov 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-21 15:56:27-05

Before they became multi-Grand Slam champions, tennis royalty, Serena and Venus Williams trained under their coach and father, Richard Williams. That's what "King Richard” starring Oscar and Emmy-nominated Will Smith, is all about.

The is film based on a true story, but for 13-year-old Bakersfield resident, Sophia Sanders, whose role in the film was a tennis player facing a young Venus Williams in her first tournament, life truly imitates art.

“They wanted me to audition for the part of a speaking role, so I went with about ten other girls, and we all auditioned with about four lines,” Sophia said. “Venus and Serena Williams’ stepsister, Isha Price was actually there, watching our audition, and she said that I reminded her of a girl Venus played in one of her tournaments.”

Sophia actually is a tennis player, and her dad is her coach.

From the stands to the set, Brandon Sanders has been with his daughter every step of the way, and he thinks she’s a total ace.

“It's all very personal to us,” Sanders said. “It’s not one of those sports where you can be naturally gifted, you gotta put in the time and the effort. You see these girls work so hard to get where they are in ten years. It’s six hours every single day. It’s waking up at 5:30 in the morning to practice.”

Those hours of practice ‘serving’ Sophia well: out of 4000 other girls competing for a spot in the film, she actually made the cut. Then, she landed that speaking part, which she discovered on the first day of filming.

“That was probably the most nerve-wracking day of my life, because Will Smith was there, and he was watching me play and speak my lines,” Sanders said. “He's not an intimidating character, but it's Will Smith! but this is will smith you're in his movie, this is his movie! And he’s a really nice, down to earth, genuine guy.”

Saturday night, friends and family having ‘a front row seat’ to watch sophia’s close up in ‘King Richard’ through a private screening here at studio movie grill. The role may have been small, but it meant the world to them.

“We’ve always loved the Williams sisters, so to be a part of this movie about them, in a sport that we love, with a family we love, has just been such an amazing experience,” Sanders said.