A year ago Serena Williams was on her way to beating her sister Venus to clinch the Australian Open title and complete the Serena Slam—holding all four major championships at once. This year at the Australian, she's noticeably absent while her sister Venus reappeared, only to lose in the third round. Serena's been sidelined from the game since knee surgery last August, and although she's slipped to No. 3 in the world, she calls the break a blessing. She plans to compete again Feb. 9, but she doesn't seem in any rush to get back on the court. While Serena was negotiating her record-breaking contract with Nike, worth at least $60 million over the next eight years, she got started on her post-tennis career: modeling her own evening wear, appearing on "Law Order: SVU" and developing a film with New Line, in which she'll play the lead. Even on the court, she plays a role: "If I'm winning, I have to act like I'm not bored. If it's a tough match, I have to act like I'm having a good time. I'm a drama queen. It's all about the acting."
Last fall Serena shot an episode of the gritty Showtime series "Street Time," written specially for her. She had worked with an acting coach on her part as an ex-gang member. On set in Toronto, she stretched her quads and fidgeted as if between serves. One scene called for her to be doing pull-ups. Serena stopped the production. "I can't do a pull-up," she said, cracking up. The unranked actress was able to cry for another scene, but the world-class athlete needed help from two men and a wooden box to pretend to be able to lift her body up.
Serena started acting at the same time she started hitting a tennis ball. Growing up in gang-riddled Compton, Calif., Serena, Venus and their three half-sisters weren't allowed to play outside. So they invented a world within their tiny two-bedroom house. Her sister Lyndrea, a computer engineer turned struggling actress, liked to make up songs. Now in her trailer between filming, Serena starts reminding Lyndrea of the old tunes, the girls' powerful voices falling easily into the notes. Though Serena's knee is still tender, she starts dancing the routine to a song called "Sunset" about a girl whose parents die, leaving her to fend for herself on the L.A. strip.
Serena's father, Richard, understood the drama of their own story, two black girls from a rough neighborhood, preparing to barnstorm the whitey tennis world. When the 8- and 9-year-olds started to get really good, Richard invited reporters over to the house. Their mother, Oracene, had wanted her husband to paint over the graffiti on the outside wall, but he never would. "I hated people coming over to see that," says Lyndrea. "But maybe he left it so the media would know these girls were different."
Sister style: Venus Williams has modeled Serena's designs
The sisters go back to Compton to remind themselves of their beginnings, and Serena remains unusually grounded for the superstar she is. She and Venus live in a somewhat modest red-tile-roofed house in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., with a view of a golf course and the retired white men who play on it. She's guarded at first, but her charisma quickly leaks out, warming entire rooms with her full-body laugh, and she wants to hear about this reporter's love life, where she lives, what books she reads. Serena is at her most animated talking about her favorite books. She's a chick-lit junkie and boasts about having read Harry Potter before it was popular. Jehovah's Witnesses, she and Venus still proselytize. (They started using the phone instead of going door-to-door, because people would ask them to sign their Bibles.) They fly coach.
Serena's family remains her center of gravity. After she bought a condo in L.A., Serena had gotten particularly close to her oldest half-sister, Yetunde, who was shot four months ago in Compton. Last week police charged an alleged Crips member with her murder. Speaking about her loss publicly for the first time, Serena says, "I just always think about her all the time. It's so hard. She has three kids that I adore, I think they're mine. I call them my sons and my little girl." Which reminds her, she says, she needs to call her mom. Though her provocative father has retreated to a less visible presence, he's still her coach. Her sisters are her best friends.
At 22, Serena has gone through more than most her age, but she also skipped over a typical adolescence. A girlie girl whose special-order powder-pink Manolo Blahniks just arrived in the mail—"They're so hot, oh, they're so hot, oh, they're so hot" she seems to be reclaiming the teen years she spent on the court. On a Sunday afternoon Venus consults Serena about what to wear that night to the Marlins-vs.-Cubs playoff game where she's throwing out the first ball. Serena rules out a Marlins jersey as too partisan and is pleased when Venus chooses an Aneres T shirt—Serena's clothing line (her name spelled backward). Serena ties a knot in it to make it sexier. They whisper in each other's ears and giggle. It seems Serena, who didn't date in high school, has a crush on one of the baseball players. Tennis does come up once: "This saved me at Wimbledon," says Serena, holding up a tube of gel that held her hair in place for the whole match.
Once she returns to tennis, the extracurriculars will have to be squeezed in around the game. While she'll continue to create Aneres dresses on the side, her new Nike contract offers her significant input into her own Nike sportswear. And her competitive edge hasn't atrophied. She says there's nothing like winning your first grand slam, but dominance suits her as well. "The last slam was more like, 'I'm the boss. Yeah, yeah, you try, but I'm the boss.' I like that." After all, the court is one more stage.
Originally Posted by AcesHigh I'll say this in public once. I miss serena so much. Fed is my favorite player but no one does it like her.