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The World’s number one, Serena Williams, lays it all On the Line in her first memoir and proves the advantage lies on her side of the net—no matter what. -Nash

By Naimah Jabali

Field Peck by Peter y h p a r g er photo rey park stylist co

Liberty National Clubhouse designed by NYC architech Lindsay Newman

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here are athletes who play a sport and there are those who make the sport. Serena Williams is the latter. After all, she was born to be a champion. Those were the words father and coach, Richard Williams, uttered to then wife Oracene Price more than 20 years ago. “We need to make two more kids and make them into tennis superstars,” he insisted after watching a match played by Romanian Virginia Ruzici, winner of the 1978 French Open. Along came Venus, then Serena—two tennis superstars. Now with 25 Grand Slam titles (12 singles, 11 women’s doubles and 2 mixed doubles), two Gold Medals and an irrefutable fervor for the court; Serena Williams is mentioned among Ruzici, Graf, Navratilova, not to mention, her older sister Venus—just as her father envisioned.


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It’s the wake of the 2010 season and Williams is relaxing at home in Palm Beach. “I’m taking it easy right now,” she says. “I just hit a little bit and train a little bit—the longer the months go on, the heavier the training will be.” When the season starts, it’s business as usual for Williams and business is good. The Australian Open, the tour’s first Grand Slam event, is a venue Williams has made her own. “I do so well in Australia every year, you kind of want that one to be your favorite,” she says. “I don’t have a favorite. I love them all.” And why shouldn’t she? In 2002, Williams became the fifth woman in history to simultaneously hold all four Grand Slam titles, stripping the number one spot from sister Venus. In January, Williams hoisted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup for the fifth time, defeating Justine Henin in three sets 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, securing her spot in sports history alongside tennis legend Billie Jean King with 12 Grand Slam singles titles (Williams ranks 6th on all-time list). But long before the

e’d hit a tennis ball back and forth with our hands. The court was just a square on the sidewalk. Sometimes, we threw some dirt on the sidewalk and it became clay court— the French Open. Then we might throw down some grass—Wimbledon. defending champion could be seen eliminating her opponents one bracket at a time, she was Compton’s reigning sidewalk Grand Slam Queen. “We used to play a game called Grand Slam. Usually it was me and Venus and Lyn,” she recalls in her first memoir On the Line. “Basically, it was like box ball or four square. We’d hit a tennis ball back and forth with our hands. The court was just a square on the sidewalk. Sometimes, we threw some dirt on the sidewalk and it became clay court—the French Open. Then we might throw down some grass—Wimbledon.” The 1978 Ruzici match proved to be the turning point for Richard Williams. He immediately got to work—researching, studying and analyzing all things tennis. On the splintered courts of East

Compton, Oracene and Richard improvised, teaching themselves the mechanics of the game. “My mother was pregnant with Venus at the time,” Williams describes in her memoir. “And she was out on the court with my dad, working on her forehand and learning drills, technique, strategy.” Tennis was more than just a game to the Williams family. It was a gateway to possibilities that extended beyond the littered, public courts of Lynwood Park. It was a game Richard and Oracene passed on to daughters Yetunde, Lyndrea, Isha, Venus and Serena. “It’s like tennis was always there. Like breathing,” remembers Williams. The Williams parents have been criticized for their unorthodox training methods. From their decision to limit their young girl’s participation in junior tournaments to separating from acclaimed teaching professional Rick Macci— but for Venus and Serena, well, their records speak for themselves. The world had never seen, let alone heard of a story like the Williams

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think I get it from him. He takes everything with a grain of salt. He’s always happy and he has the most positive attitude that I know of. When people meet him they think that he is tough, but he’s so docile and so nice and just the greatest person.”

y dad is a really, really good golfer. So, we play at his house in Florida. It’s a challenge. I love it!

sisters. Two sisters, not grounded in the country club mores were making headlines. The tennis world needed an explanation. Richard Williams became the target. Tennis parents have earned the record of having an ‘out there’ mentality—Mike Agassi, Stefano Capriati, Jim Pierce—sitting in the players’ box, arms folded, scoffing at every unforced error. It’s almost more entertaining watching and wondering which outlandish parent will boil over first. At times Richard Williams fell victim to the spectacle. He was misunderstood after an outward display of solidarity by raising his fist in the air at Indian Wells in 2001 as the crowed shouted racially charged obscenities at Serena. And his boisterous celebration after Venus won the 2000 Wimbledon Championships, during which he shouted, “straight out of Compton” before doing a jig atop the NBC commentator’s tent were foreign to spectators. But, through it all the intent of Richard Williams and Oracene Price has been to prepare their daughters for “life beyond the baseline,” as he once explained to reporters. “He’s a really nice guy,” stresses Williams about her father. “He has an unbelievable sense of humor. I have a really crazy sense of humor as well—I

Standing on the par 3 second at Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, NJ, Serena Williams applies her father’s makeshift approach to her putting stroke. Short game isn’t her forte. “I like to see how far I can go,” she says laughing. When not striking 120 mph serves down the center service line, Williams may be found on the driving range. “My dad is a really, really good golfer. So, we play at his house in Florida. It’s a challenge. I love it!” Across the Hudson River lies the island of Manhattan. Its eminent monoliths pierce the mid-day sky. Brisk winds cut from the currents whipping the flagstick, all the while Williams’ fluid stroke nestles a ball next to the cup. “I used to play a lot more often than I do now. But when I’m at my dad’s house we just hit balls,” says Williams. Her innate aptitude for the links is reminiscent of Althea Gibson, 1958 Wimbledon champion and first African American to earn an LPGA Tour card. And if Williams can manipulate a Nike One Tour the same way she does a fresh pack of Wilsons, then who knows, the LPGA Tour may not be so unlikely (pending a reworking of her reverse pivot). Golf is one of the few pastimes Williams indulges in off the court. The Women’s Tennis Association’s grueling twelve month touring schedule keeps her in constant flux. And though the sensation of hitting a 200-yard drive is gratifying, it can’t compare to the deafening cheers Williams receives from fans when she steps out on the court. “At that point I’m just thinking how honored I feel,”

explains Williams. “It’s awesome to be playing and to have people to come and watch you play. When I’m walking out I feel really amped up, I really get in the moment. At the end of the day I feel like I’m an entertainer and these people are here to watch me entertain them.” Entertaining is an understatement when watching a Williams match. Tennis fan or not, when Williams is on the court you find yourself rallying behind her as she fights for every point. Before stepping on the court in the distinguished, illuminated Arthur Ashe Stadium, Williams is composed. It is the 2009 US Open quarterfinal match and she faces tenth seeded Flavia Pennetta. As she calmly answers Mary Joe Fernandez’s pre game questions it’s clear that her mind is elsewhere. Her face is expressionless, lest she evince any weakness in the presence of her competitor. She enters the stadium and the crowd rises for their champion. Admirers yell, “Go Serena!” as she launches line-nicking aces down center court. “I feel like I have a great personality on the court, I’m really spicy,” says Williams. With each calculated move, Williams keeps Pennetta on the defense sending her scurrying from baseline to baseline before she strikes a forehand winner down the line. Pennetta is no match for Williams’ cunning pace, big serve and deft drop shot. In less than an hour, she is dismissed, falling to Williams in consecutive sets, 6-4, 6-3. “You can see that I give 100 percent. There’s so much more behind the grunt—it’s not just noise, it’s more physical. I want every point. You can see my pure tenacity, my pure spirit and everything on the court.” It seemed as if Williams could not be denied and would not be denied a twelfth Grand Slam title. However, Williams’ US Open run was curtailed in two words—foot fault. In the thrilling semifinal match versus Kim Clijsters, Williams was one set down and serving 5-6, 15-30 in the second set. Then it happened. The linesperson called Serena on a foot fault, a penalty rarely


acy Reese Dress by Tr

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Outfit and equipment provided by Nke


called especially in the semi-final of a Grand Slam. The penalty put Williams down match point. And in an ireful tongue lashing, which included racket pointing and talk of force feeding tennis balls, Williams was charged with a second penalty, losing to Clijsters 6-4, 7-5. “I’m a really intense player,” said Williams in a press conference. Clijsters would go down in history as the first unseeded woman, and mother since 1980, to win the US Open defeating Caroline Wozniacki 7-5, 6-3. The United States Tennis Association eventually fined Williams a recordbreaking $175,000 for her outburst at Flushing Meadows. Williams’ momentary lapse was costly. But with the more than $6.5 million she raked in on prize money alone in the 2009 season, she has it covered. More importantly, to Williams it was a Grand Slam that fell from her grasp. Her most challenging competitor? Herself. “I can win each match or I can lose it,” says Williams. “It’s important to me to always be positive as opposed to beating myself up.” Williams hates to lose, even if her big sister Venus is on the opposite side of the net. She’s always had something to prove. The youngest of five, Serena was often seen as the “underdog” as she calls herself in On the Line, following in Venus’ remarkable shadow. “When we were little it was always “Venus this” and “Venus that.” “Venus, Venus, Venus.” The more we developed as players, the more I became the tagalong sister. That was the perception,” states Williams. As an undefeated junior, Venus quickly set the standard in a young Serena’s career. And for as much as she revered her older sister, Serena longed to rightfully compete alongside and at times against Venus. Her sister’s successes and failures would be her silent motivators. “At her very first tour event,

I was taking all these mental notes,” explains Williams in On the Line. “She lost, but I could see where she lost. And when she lost, I lost. When she won, I won.”

t her very first tour event, I was taking all these mental notes . . . She lost, but I could see where she lost. And when she lost, I lost. When she won, I won. But it wouldn’t take long for the kid sister to make her way—on her own terms. “Honestly, I think I was 17 when I found my own path, maybe even 18,” remembers Williams. “One day I woke up and I realized we were different. I enjoyed doing different things than Venus and that was insightful. I just remember waking up and having that, always looking at someone and loving them and wanting to do everything they do—having that moment when you’re like, ‘Hmm, I’m different’—That’s cool.” It’s evident that Williams has out grown the tagalong sister stigma. From her clothing line, Aneres (Serena backwards) to a burgeoning acting career, Williams has developed her own identity. On the court the last name is all that likens one to the other. Venus covers the court in two fluid strides to reach balls that by any other standards would be deemed winners. And Serena’s ‘killer instinct’ and clever angle play make Mary Carillo as

giddy as a school girl. It’s been proven match after match that inside the baseline, both sisters rise to the challenge, as if erecting some deep rooted sibling rivalry, but out side the service court—the two are inseparable. “Venus and I are insanely close. We do everything together, we live together,” says Williams. “For us tennis is so awesome and we’re so blessed to play tennis. But also, we think that tennis isn’t forever and we’ll have each other for the rest of our lives. When we play each other, we think ‘Ok, I want to win. I want to win.’ But 30 years from now it’s not really going to matter. Soon it will be someone else’s turn.” And Williams is preparing for that transition. As an ambassador for the sport she works diligently, conducting tennis clinics to help nurture young, tennis hopeful’s dreams of one day making it to a Grand Slam. But, more important to Williams than a two-handed backhand is her dedication to education. “It’s just really important to me because my parents always stressed education, so we just try to give back in that way,” says Williams. In November 2008, the Serena Williams Foundation, in tandem with the nonprofit organization Build African Schools, opened the Serena Williams Secondary School in Matooni, Kenya. Her contribution to the sport is unquestionable and is felt beyond sold out arenas. Williams’ name is forever etched in the annals of sports history, yet she maintains that her legacy never to be confined to the court. “I don’t want people to think of me as a tennis player,” remarks Williams. “I want them to think of someone who was able to help out as much as I could with people learning, teaching people truths about God and just helping people like what I’m doing with my schools in Africa. And then they’ll say, ‘Oh my God, she was a tennis player too?’”

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Advantage Williams  

by p eter F ield p eck stylist corey parker 34 the green photography Liberty National Clubhouse designed by NYC architech Lindsay Newman the...

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