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Old Nov 7th, 2002, 03:32 PM   #1
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Serena laughs at...

Laughter is her rallying cry

By Greg Boeck, USA TODAY

Serena Williams enters the season-ending Home Depot Championships starting Wednesday in Los Angeles poised to become tennis' first $4 Million Wonder Woman. But the wonder of this 21-year-old woman extends far beyond the nets she has ruled this year in an implausible rise from No. 9 to No. 1 that shook up the pecking order of a family more than it did the Sanex Women's Tennis Association Tour.

Serena guest stars as a teacher on the Oct. 30 episode of My Wife and Kids.
Carol Kaelson, ABC

Forget the history-making three Grand Slam titles she won in a row at the expense of her older sister, Venus, whom she replaced at No. 1. Never mind the clinging Lycra catsuit she wore at the U.S. Open in New York that shoved tennis heartthrob Anna Kournikova off the tabloid front pages.

Instead, focus in on The Laugh. You can't miss it. It defines Serena Williams. On the court, where she's tennis' smiling assassin. Or in the privacy of her bathroom, where she retreats to her favorite spot on the planet, a mirror-lined vanity area, and talks and laughs for hours on her cell phone with friends.

Serena at a glance

Born: Sept. 26, 1981, Saginaw, Mich.

Resides: Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Height, weight: 5-8, 130.

Career singles titles: 19.

Grand Slam titles: 4.

Worst vice: Hostess Zingers. "If I see them, I grab them."

Best school grade: A in geometry.

Next vacation: Africa. "Those are my roots. Maybe I'll be going next year."

Favorite designer: "It's impossible to have a favorite one. I get ideas from everybody, Versace, Armani, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren. Everybody inspires me."

Least favorite acting role: Playing herself. "Anyone can play themselves. I'm a little better than that. I like to challenge myself."

On being female version of Tiger Woods: "Tiger has done so much in his sport, and I guess I have, as well as Venus. You can say a female version of Tiger. Or Tiger is a male version of the Williams sisters."

Money milestones: Serena Williams would become the first female athlete to top $4 million in a year if she wins the Home Depot Championships and the $765,000. She has $3,275,826.

Other milestones:

$100,000 — Tennis: 1971, Billie Jean King ($117,000); Golf: 1976, Judy Rankin ($150,734)

$1 million — Tennis: 1982, Martina Navratilova ($1,475,055); Golf: 1996, Karrie Webb ($1,002,000)

$2 million — Tennis: 1984, Navratilova ($2,173,556); Golf: 2001, Annika Sorenstam ($2,105,868)

$3 million — Tennis: 1997, Martina Hingis ($3,400,196); Golf: Sorenstam (close this year but can't do it)






It's her calling card, the window into her soul. She has not only laughed her way to the top of the tennis world with her aggressive game, fun-loving personality, witty demeanor and bold attitude, but also into Hollywood's entertainment circle and Fifth Avenue's world of design.

Has anyone in sports — male or female — embraced life in the last year with more passion and joy, more fun and laughter, than Serena Williams? Her mother, Oracene, says the The Laugh is Serena's best trait. Daughter agrees.

"I think so, because if you can't laugh yourself out of a situation, then life gets a bit too stressful or you just won't be happy," Williams says. "It's important, whatever you are doing, playing tennis or modeling, you have to be happy. That's why I like to smile and laugh. I enjoy myself."

Nobody enjoyed winning on the women's tour more than Williams this season. After withdrawing from the semifinals of the Australian Open with a sprained ankle, she reached the finals in nine of her next 11 events and won a Tour-leading eight singles titles — including Grand Slams at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

If she defends her title at the $3 million WTA indoor stop this week, she not only would become the first woman to surpass $4 million in a season but also the 10th to surpass $10 million in career earnings. All at 21 for less than two months.

The 'Serena Slam'

Storybook year? For sure, she says. "When I wasn't able to play the Australian Open, I decided I was tired of losing. Maybe it was good that I wasn't able to play. After that I decided I want to be the best."

Venus, she says, was her inspiration — and her victim. In Paris, then in Wimbledon, where she took over Venus' No. 1 ranking. And, finally, in New York, where she straight-setted Venus to become the first player since Martina Hingis in 1997 to win three majors in one season and only the sixth woman to win three consecutive Grand Slams in the same year.

Next up: The Serena Slam — winning four Slams in a row with a victory in January at the Australian Open. "We'll have to call it that," she says. "It has a ring to it."

She laughs. Sometimes it's a giddy laugh. She's still a girlish 21, unspoiled by the opportunities every fresh morning brings. Other times it's a nervous laugh. "It comes at the wrong times, too," she says, sheepishly. Mostly, though, it's an infectious laugh that echoes the joy of everything she does.

Williams grew up the youngest of five girls in a rough Compton, Calif., neighborhood but embraced the regimented lifestyle her father, Richard, introduced her to at 5 1/2 — and everything else her parents taught her.

No. 1 lesson: Don't restrict yourself to one interest.

Williams hasn't. She is a voracious reader. In Germany during a Tour stop this season, she read three books in one week. "It was ridiculous! It's so boring there," she says.

She reads a book a week. One of her favorite authors: Poet Maya Angelou. But she likes fiction the most.

She's also exploring the worlds of acting and design. Tennis, she says, won't last forever. "In 10 years, I don't see myself playing tennis anymore. I want to do different things. Hopefully, it'll be acting. That's my goal. Regardless, I'll have my fashion house."

She's serious about acting. She hired an acting coach recently and has two auditions scheduled while in Los Angeles. "I'm reading for the director so they can get a feel for what I do," she says. "Traditionally, athletes aren't very good at acting. I want directors to get a feel for me, that way I won't be dubbed like everyone else."

She was a guest voice on a 2001 episode of the animated TV show The Simpsons, appeared in rapper Memphis Bleek's Do My video featuring Jay-Z, made a cameo in Martin Lawrence's movie Black Knight last year and recently portrayed a teacher at Damon Wayans' son's school in an episode of ABC's My Wife and Kids.

"I really had fun with the role," Williams says. "I'm pretty good at (acting). Like tennis, it just comes natural to me. When I take something serious, I go all out, and so I'm going all out for it and have fun and see what happens."

She calls Sandra Bullock her acting inspiration. "Actors have this personality," she says. "They're outgoing. That's me. They are kind of ... I want to say ... crazy, and that totally describes me to a 't.' "

Another laugh. It's almost like every day is Christmas for Williams. There's always a new present to open. Like her passion for designing.

She spent three semesters at the Art Institute of Florida near the Palm Beach Gardens home she has shared with Venus the last two years. Out of those classes came a line of sportswear she designed for Puma.

But mainly she's into designing evening wear. She's in the process of hiring a pattern maker. "It's totally on me," she says, "not someone else. Eventually I'm going to hire a designer to work out the designs. I'm also looking into my own company. I'm branching out."

On the ride of her life

Who knows what's next? Unlike so many athletes at the top, Williams is determined to enjoy the ride and milk it dry. These are special times, and she appreciates them, even though she says it leaves her precious little private time.

"I don't get much," she says. "I'm always doing something, an interview, a photo shoot, something like that."

She gets away to five or six Miami Heat NBA games a year but rarely dates. Asked if there was anyone special in her life, she says, "No, I'm very single. Very, very single. Right now I'm focused on my tennis. It's not like I'm looking for anybody. I'm just looking to do well in my sport. I'm not trying to get anybody to hold me back. I need to be focused, and I don't think I can be focused with anybody."

At home, she loves to retire to her room with her two dogs — a Staffordshire named Bambi and a Jack Russell named Jackie — and watch TV. Her favorite shows: The Golden Girls and Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants ("The jokes are so funny"), and those on the Lifetime channel.

"Those movies are great," she says. "I'd love to get a small role in one of them someday."

But her favorite room in the house is her bathroom. "I have this vanity area," she says. "I'm always sitting there talking on the phone."

The cell phone is her constant companion. Mom says she's on it 12 hours a day. Williams doesn't offer much defense. "I'm always talking, taking care of business or casual talk."

She and Venus share the same home and, she says, are closer than ever. "She's my best friend."

She's also close to her mother and father/coach, who recently divorced. "For us, family is No. 1," she says. "People come and go and friends come and go but your family has to be there. That's why Venus and I get along so well. We play each other in the finals and in the end, for me, it's, OK, after this match I'm still going to be her sister. Ten years from now, it's not going to matter" who won.

For now, she's on top, living her dream. She's earned this. "Being on the ride I'm on now, I haven't really had the time to sit down and think what I've done. The best part is being on top."

And laughing.


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Last edited by iluvtrent : Nov 7th, 2002 at 03:57 PM.
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Old Nov 7th, 2002, 03:37 PM   #2
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