Serena Speaks: Williams Holds Forth on Wimbledon and Bouncing Back

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Today at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Serena Williams gave her first interview since her much-discussed appearance at Wimbledon this year, where—having lost in the third round of singles—she appeared listless and disoriented, double-faulting four successive times before retiring from a second-round doubles match. (She was diagnosed as having a “viral illness.”) What is going on in the world of Serena Williams at the moment? Here are some answers:

On her recovery:

After Wimbledon I stayed around in Europe. I was entered in Bastad and I felt so bad about not being able to play there. I went on what I call a “vacation,” which is where you have fun in the sun but you practice every day in the morning. You try to practice really early.

I’ve been working out really hard, running and swimming and jumping in the ocean, and hoping no sharks will come and get me. That always works really well for conditioning.

On the second-round doubles match at Wimbledon:

I didn’t feel great walking on the court. I didn’t even warmup before the match. I went down to the car right before the other match ended.

I was really scared afterward, because I didn’t realize how I felt until later. I was like, “Serena, take your time. You have the rest of your life to play tennis, hopefully.”

Venus was like, “Serena, walk off the court,” I think she almost punched me. “As big sister, I’m telling you, you have to leave.” I was like, “It’s just half the court, I can do it, I can do it.”

They [the doctors] just said I was really ill and under the weather.

It kind of reminded me when I had my other illness [the pulmonary embolism in 2011], I didn’t realize how sick I was until my dad came over. We were walking outside for no more than three minutes and I said, “Okay, I gotta go inside,” and I slept the whole day and woke up the next day. After this happened, I kind of had that flashback. When you’re in this moment, you don’t realize how sick you are until you kind of step back and picture everything.

I was really, really sick. Literally for the next three days I couldn’t even get out of bed. Usually, when you lose in a tournament, you leave. Most people don’t want to be in [those] surroundings. But I literally stayed until the tournament ended, because I was not actually allowed to leave. The doctors told me, “Don’t leave, you gotta stay.”

On seeing footage of the match:

It’s weird, it’s like, “Is that me?” But that’s the fight in me. I always go, go, go, I never stop. I never know when to say when.

On the crowd reaction at Court One during the match:

I don’t know, ’cause I wasn’t in the crowd. My head was down. To be honest, I don’t remember a wave, or I didn’t see a wave. My head was down the whole time.

On media coverage and online response:

I heard a lot of the response weeks and weeks later, because I didn’t leave my house or my bed for a few days. By the time I read about it, or heard about it from other people, I was like, “Oh, really?” I’d already moved on and I’d started working out to try and play again.

I didn’t meditate or think about it for too long, because for one, as you guys know, I never really read anything about me. I have a big huge book that I hope to look at one day at the end of my career. Then maybe I can give you a better answer.

On the open letter from Chris Evert in 2006:

Like I said then, everyone is entitled to their feelings. Obviously an open letter from Chris Evert was almost a compliment, meaning that she wanted to see me do well—that she’d take the time to even write or even reach out and say, “Serena, this is how I feel, I think you have so much potential.” Coming from a great like that, it’s pretty cool.

[Told that Evert says she’s had the last laugh] I think and hope she is right.

On her age:

I’m 32 and proud, baby.

On the pressure to win her 18th slam and tie Chris and Martina:

I got stuck at 13 for a while and I was really depressed about it: “I’m never going to get to 14.” That was before I got ill, I was stuck at 13. And I thought about that just about a week ago, and I was like, “Serena, don’t put pressure on yourself.”

I keep saying I don’t think about the numbers. but everyone’s talking about it, everyone’s thinking about it, and I think subconsciously, it began to twirl in my mind. I was thinking that I just need to relax and remember that I’ve been in this position before. If it doesn’t happen this year, there’s always next year, and I have no points to defend.

We have four times a year [to win a Slam], and I’m still going.

On whether fatigue from her strong seasons in 2012 and 2013 has caught up with her this year:

I was thinking about that, and I’ve been thinking a lot of things—a lot of things have been crossing my brain. I’ll get a lot of tests done at the end of the season and go from there.

On going to Croatia to practice and train with longtime hitting partner Sascha Bajin:

It was unexpected, it was last-minute. I was like, “I’m going to play Bastad,” and my mom looked at me sideways and I thought, “Okay, I’m not going to make the same mistake again, so I won’t play Bastad, I’ll just work out and train.”

I didn’t know what to do, and Sascha suggested we go to Croatia. I thought, “Really? I’ve never been.” He said, “There’s more tennis courts than people there.” That’s maybe why there are so many good Croatian tennis players coming up.

And now I understand, because I saw so many tennis courts there—everywhere you looked there was tennis.

I’m glad I went, it was so pretty. I never expected it to be that pretty. And I was able to practice ice cream catching (laughs).

On how she’s feeling today:

I’m feeling pretty good about my game, because as you know, I’m never feeling great about it. I’m always wanting to do more to improve, I’m always thinking and nitpicking at every little thing that I want to get better at.

Like I said at Wimbledon, I was really disappointed because I worked so hard. But I’m working hard for long term results.