I'm more than okay with Serena not telling these tennis reporters what's inside. They don't deserve that insight into her and vulnerability. However, to herself and to her camp, let it all out. I'd be disappointed if she actually believed the no pressure, pressure is a privilege, I've already won spiel she gives on court. Pressure is what it is, it's fine to acknowledge it to yourself. The reporters can keep getting the canned answers.she just may do that, but she'll never tell a bunch of reporters...EVERYONE, Serena included, knows that the pressure and nerves got to her, and unlike many times before, this was one of the few times she was not able to work her way through them...right after her match she was simply not going to admit it...it's not like she hasn't lost b/c she was a nervy mess before, it's just that it's a rare occurrence...after getting #18 she admitted that let the pressure of getting there get to her
At 175 centimetres tall Serena Williams is not, in physical terms, so imposing. In the sport of tennis, however, she cuts a formidable figure: The world's greatest female player and, alongside steffi graf and martina navratilova, one of the greatest female athletes the sport has ever produced.
Born in Saginaw, Michigan, the daughter of Richard Williams and Oracene Price, Serena picked up her first tennis racquet at the age of three. As tennis coach/dad combos go, Richard Williams was gentle, often reminding daughters Venus and Serena, even as tennis superstardom beckoned, not to let the sport swamp their childhood.
Even so, Serena still agitated to compete in her first tournament two years before the minimum age stipulated by the women's tennis association. Barred from competing in the Oakland classic, she later won a wildcard into a tournament in Quebec and, at 14, stepped onto the court in adult competition.
"My inner voice just told me not to give up, i hadn't even begun to reach my goal, it was as simple as that," Serena recalls of that momentous but brief encounter. (she lost in the first round of qualifying.)
"Self-belief and self-confidence are what both my mum and my dad taught me," she adds. "and it comes in handy in our career. You have to believe in yourself because a lot of times people won't believe in you."
Flash forward to the present and those words – and the unbreakable self-confidence which has driven them for decades – have never been more tested. Serena has just come off a tough us open final, forced to defend herself as the tournament came to a messy finish with a match in which she repeatedly clashed with the umpire.
In that sense, our interview – scheduled by an underwear brand with which she has an endorsement deal before the tournament began – has an unexpected tension to it.
To her credit, Serena did not cancel our chat, as many stars caught in a storm of headlines and clashing points of view might have done; she does not even impose conditions on our meeting, except to ask that discussion of events during the us open final not wholly dominate the interview.
In physical terms, the cool-down after any tournament is gradual, Serena says. "The first day, for me, is basically just binge resting. I don't do anything. And after that i just come back to a light gym workout and then get back to more fitness. Maybe I won't play tennis, but I'll keep fit."
This particular grand slam, however, is not fading quietly away. The final – which ended with naomi osaka defeating Serena in straight sets – was marred by heated arguments between Serena and umpire carlos ramos: A code violation when ramos saw her coach making hand signals; a second when she smashed her racquet; and, finally, a game penalty for verbal abuse.
Speaking in the aftermath of the match, Serena acknowledged the emotional toll it had taken on her much younger opponent, whose first grand slam win was unexpectedly and miserably set to a soundtrack of the almost 24,000-strong crowd at Arthur Ashe stadium booing from the stands.
"I felt bad because I'm crying and she's crying and she just won and I'm not sure if they were happy tears or they were just sad tears," Serena said at the time. "that wasn't how i felt when i won my first grand slam, so i was like, 'I don't want her to feel like that.' "
Did the clash affect the match's outcome? "That's a really good question," she said straight after the match. "It's hard to say because i always fight to the end and i always try to come back, no matter what. But she was also playing really, really well."
Serena's detractors argue that she has a history of bringing a forceful personality to the court. Her sportsmanship has been questioned, and issues of both race and gender have featured in these discussions.
A debate is still raging with headlines suggesting she needs to "rise above stereotypes" and that Serena and ramos will be "kept apart" at the australian open next year.
Serena has followed the ongoing debate – but not too closely.
"I think it's important to do a little bit of both, of tuning a lot out but at the same time listening," she says. "I think it's important to have patience and speak your mind and have peace. So it's an interesting line, a thin line, between where that peaceful sanity comes from."
When asked, she doesn't re-engage with what happened or the specific issues which are still driving debate. "i'm still in the middle of that process," she tells Sunday life.
What matters more, Serena says, is that everyone has a voice. And all she wants is to be treated the same as any male tennis player in the same situation. "I feel like everyone has a voice; that it doesn't matter what colour you are, what sex you are," she says. "And my voice, it shouldn't be diminished because of …"
She trails off, pausing for a moment in contemplation, and then resets. "Just equality," she says with finality. "treating me the same as you treat everyone else. That's basically all."
For most of her career, Williams' on-court performance was central to her narrative: She is unequivocally the most physically powerful woman to reach the peak of the sport. In the last few years, however, a personal world emerged that the media spotlight has found equally compelling.
In 2017, Serena married reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian; their wedding in New Orleans featured a guest list that included Beyoncé, anna wintour and kim kardashian. A daughter, Alexis Olympia, followed in September last year.
Serena says that she and her husband have tried to create boundaries between their family and the public. "We try to keep it really authentic and keep it to moments where that we really want to share. Some moments we choose to share. Lots and lots and lots of moments we don't. But somehow it works out." in the wake of her daughter's birth, Serena revealed that she had struggled with post-partum depression.
She overcame it, she says, by "talking things through with my mum, my sisters, and my friends [who] let me know that my feelings are totally normal".
Serena acknowledges now that the same mind game on the tennis court comes into play often in her off-court life.
"Just being able to overcome that … i feel grounded and thankful," she says. "both [the physical and mental aspects of the game] really play hand in hand, and both are really key to being successful."
The best part of being a mother?
"Every day," she says. "Waking up and knowing this person is going to keep growing, and screaming, having fun, and going to grow up and be an adult."
And the toughest part? "The anxiety. I just want her to be safe."
Serena has endorsement deals with companies that include gatorade, delta air lines, aston martin, pepsico and chase bank. Our interview has been organised by berlei, the underwear brand with which she is launching a breast cancer awareness campaign.
Though Serena controls her personal brand, she points out she does not see herself in a corporate context. There is no skyscraper, she says. And no boardroom. Instead she focuses on brands with which she feels an authentic connection. She was using berlei, she points out, for almost a decade before any deal existed.
The campaign features the iconic Australian song i touch myself by Divinyls. Serena thinks the choice particularly apt, serving as it does "to make people aware that we need to, quote-unquote, touch ourselves, to check for early stages and signs of breast cancer."
She continues: "I really believe in speaking out for women's rights and women's health and I'm very, very selective. I continue to support causes that are really close to my heart."
Perhaps the most personally revealing aspect of the campaign is that Serena sings i touch myself. And she has, not to put too fine a point on it, a remarkably good singing voice. Could music be a potential future career?
"No, no way," Serena says, laughing. "I'm good at tennis, I'm good at fashion … but i don't feel like I'm a good singer. That's definitely not my wheelhouse."
Recording an intimate, acapella version of the song Divinyls singer Chrissy Amphlett (who co-wrote it) turned into an Australian rock anthem in the early 1990s was particularly poignant for Serena.
It caused her to reflect, she says, on Amphlett's death from breast cancer and the extent of the disease's impact around the world.
"I had a voice coach to help me through every step, and she said, just think about how you feel, that you're telling people if you do this, you can save a life.
"And when i thought about that, that this is one of the best ways to prevent cancer, or to stop it, or to get healed from it, that was the kind of mind space I got in."
In her own life, Serena admits, she has not raised the issue with her doctors. "And if I haven't, can you imagine the other people who aren't either?" she says.
"It's unfortunate that for a lot of women, especially African-American women, that's not in the forefront of our minds. It's not what the media pushes us to pay attention to."
Our conversation drifts into growing up with tennis idols, the goddesses of a sport which has brought fame and fortune to many players over the decades.
Mine come easily: Evonne goolagong cawley, chris evert and martina navratilova. For Serena, who is younger, it was champions such as Monica Seles and Zina Garrison.
"I never dreamt I'd be as successful as them," she says candidly. "I never thought that i would never be equal, i just never thought about being equal. Monica won eight grand slam titles – that was a lot. I didn't know if I would do that." (for the record, her 2007 Australian open win was the eighth of what now stands at 23 grand slam wins.)
significantly, there was no poster girl, no role model, to encourage a rising African-American female tennis player to say "you can do that … someone to tell little girls that you can dream big and you can be big. There were people, but they didn't have the platform that we have now."
Serena herself is aware of the cultural power of her image. But she adds: "one thing that we all have in common: We're all just women. Doesn't matter about the colour of our skin or the texture of our hair. We're all women with one cause."
And today, during our interview, the focus is on one little lady in particular: Alexis, who has just turned one and who makes no bones about wanting to take her mother's attention away from the interview. A future tennis superstar, I ask?
"I'd encourage her if she wanted to go out and play, not necessarily tennis but whatever she wants to do," Serena says. "But we have the rest of our lives to be a grown-up. That's something my dad always told me. You have the rest of your life to be an adult, so enjoy your youth while you can."
As part of the I Touch Myself project, Berlei are donating 100% of profits from the sale of the Chrissy bra to breast cancer network australia. Buy yours now at berlei.com.au/thechrissy