Dressed in black trousers and sleeveless top, a very athletic – yet glamorous – Serena Williams walks into a cavernous Hollywood photo studio all smiles.
She’s looking warm and fuzzy, too, not words usually associated with this tennis champion, carrying her little canine companion tucked under one arm.
Williams won the US Open, her first major slam, aged 17 and has gone on to break tennis records ever since. She has won 21 grand slams, she once held the top spot in the rankings for 124 weeks and is best known for dominating the courts with her signature grunts; her recent Wimbledon exploits – think the remarkable third-round comeback against our very own Heather Watson – the perfect example.
Williams likes to surprise her fans by revealing her feminine side, something not often seen on the court. After all, she has relied on her physical body to get her to the ball in time with speed, agility, strength and discipline.
“I think each of those characteristics helps balance me and everything else in my life,” she says. “A lot of people say to me ‘wow, you look different in person’ and I say, ‘well, I’m not sweating and grunting’! It’s a big difference when I’m working so hard in tennis – that’s my job. But being an athlete makes me never want to give up on things; whatever I believe in, I fight for and will do it again and again until it’s right.”
At 33, when most female tennis players hang up their rackets, Serena is busier than ever having just won her sixth Wimbledon title. She has already won 40 matches this year alone, which has seen collect three titles. Off court, she has equity deals that include owning a piece of the Miami Dolphins and an investment in a sports gear company. Earlier this year, she became the first black female athlete to have a photo of herself on the cover of Vogue, on the April 2015 issue. And she has just signed up for the Master Class online programme where for around £60 you can receive video lessons and learning tools from the pro herself. Busy bee, then…
You might be the most powerful woman in sport. What makes you feel feminine and what empowers you as a woman off the court?
I think it’s learning about the business side of life – that’s very empowering. I think you are brought down to earth after being with a lot of men, so you’re definitely the most feminine in the room. You feel you need to stand up for yourself and really make important decisions. So it does get empowering at the same time.
No one has dominated women’s tennis over the last few decades like you have. How has your relationship with the sport evolved over the years?
It’s changed a lot in terms of growing a bigger, more special relationship with tennis. Developing a greater love for it and just a different sort of appreciation. I think it’s definitely changed for the better.
You’ve had health setbacks in the past. Have these experiences changed your life at all? Do you take better care of yourself as you get older?
Absolutely I do. I’m already into better nutrition. And I’ve learned the business aspect of my game. As an athlete, I know the products that athletes really need. I attended college taking business courses and I think the more you play or the more you’re around different things, you mind has to go to another level. I know I won’t be playing tennis forever.
What tips would you give our readers when it comes to keeping their bodies in top form, and how to live a healthy lifestyle?
A good healthy diet is really important. Sugar is basically the devil even though it’s so good. I love sugar, unfortunately, but I know it’s not good for you. A lot of people say not to eat carbs but some are very healthy for you and very important; they can help improve your brain function, so it would have to be complex carbs from vegetables and salads. Beans have become a really big staple for me whether it’s red, kidney or black-eyed peas. Those are really important to me because they’re both protein and carbohydrates.
Any foods you’ve completely omitted over the years?
I don’t eat red meat and haven’t done so in over a decade. With the meat, I just decided I didn’t want to eat it. I was pretty young at the time but there’s no real reason behind it. And I don’t drink coffee.
What are your guilty food pleasures?
Those chocolate-covered peanut butter cups and liquorice. Sometimes I’ll have fun with those things and do something crazy but then again, I don’t think it’s crazy, it’s just normal and keeps me balanced. I think being crazy is saying no to everything.
Please finish this sentence – Nothing is sweeter than…
Love. And I’ll leave it at that.
“I don’t eat red meat and haven’t done so in over a decade. With the meat, I just decided I didn’t want to eat it.”
What or who inspires you on a daily basis?
On a daily basis? I tend to think that Venus [Serena’s sister] inspires me regularly.
You’re over 30 – do you think your body can still stand the rigours of stiff competition and the practice that you do?
Yeah I think so. I feel really young again. I was thinking about that the other day actually on the court when I was warming up and thinking you know, ‘I don’t feel too bad overall’. This is really kind of cool.
In the field you’re in, there is constant pressure and stress. How do you reduce these?
Prayer is important, at least for me. Reading, too, I read fiction… silly reads. I play some games on my iPhone. And watching TV can shut your brain off sometimes and be a stress reliever. I like to watch The Voice – I like reality TV.
What do you fear most in life?
I don’t really fear. Or I try not to fear.
What would you like to be remembered most for?
I do a lot of charity work with a lot of schools in Africa and in the United States. I send girls to school who can’t afford it, so I’d like to be remembered for the work that I do to help people because I do a lot. I don’t talk about it because I do it for the pure love of it.
Much is written about your temper. What would you like the readers to know about you, though?
I don’t really care what they [writers] say. I think I’m really funny and not really much of a diva. My whole thing about it is that life is too short to worry about what someone else says or thinks about you.
Are you more of an emotional, angry, sad or happy person?
Definitely sad, at times. I was trying to figure that out and I think maybe because I try to do too much. Lack of sleep. maybe? I should probably get six to eight hours every night and I’m only getting five to six at times.
What can you not live without?
What do you listen to before a match?
Everything. From country and rock to hip hop, classical and 70s and 80s music. There’s nothing I avoid listening to.