THE HUMAN SIDE OF SERENA: Poems, Power, Patrick and Pals

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Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

From Melbourne to Indian Wells to London, Serena shared her wide-ranging views with the media.

Your US Open loss seems to really have had an impact on how you viewed yourself. Do you feel differently about yourself when you win, compared with when you lose?

Unfortunately, I definitely do – which I don’t think is normal…When I lose I don’t feel as good about myself – but then I have to remind myself, “You are Serena Williams.”…I just have to say: “Do you know what you’ve done, who you are, what you continue to do in tennis and off court – like, ‘You’re awesome!”…That just shows the human side of me – that I’m not a robot.

Can you imagine what it would have been like since 2012 if Patrick Mouratoglou hadn’t been your coach?

Patrick has obviously been extremely influential with my winning on a consistent basis. We make a formidable team…We’re a lot alike, in terms of our professionalism. We’re both never satisfied unless we win, and even when we do win, we pick apart what we could have done better. To meet someone who has that same hunger and drive is rare – and pretty awesome…He’s just so sangfroid [i.e. composed]…When I’m calm, I usually can find answers and come through.

You had a critical conversation with Patrick shortly after the French Open. He told you, “You’re back.” Was there a moment when you sensed there was a change?

Literally one day I woke up and felt different, like I could do better, [like] I can do this, I’m going to do this, and nothing is going to stop me.

You’ve had pressure on you we can only imagine. Talk about that and the disappointment after New York.

I’ve felt a lot of pressure. I put a lot of that pressure on myself. Obviously I’ve had some really tough losses. But if you look at the big picture, I [got to two] Grand Slam finals…It’s pretty impressive.

I had to start looking at positives, not focusing on that one loss per tournament, which really isn’t bad; anyone else…would be completely happy. Once I did that…I realized I’m pretty good. Then I started playing a little better.

Talk about your intensity. Is it essentially just who you are? Is it something you embrace and love? Do you ever step away and say, “Whoa, that’s a bit too much?”

It’s no secret – I’m a very intense player. I’m so passionate at my job, just like you guys are with writing. I hope you are just as passionate. This is what I do, and I love what I do. [I’ve woken] up since I was three years old to do this. These are the moments that I live for. The passion and the intensity that I have is what makes me Serena. I can’t change – nor would I ever want to be different.

Are you surprised that sexism and complaints about women’s tennis still crop up?

Yeah, especially since Venus and I and all the other women [have] done well. Last year the women’s final at the US Open sold out well before the men’s…Look at someone like Billie Jean, who opened so many doors…So I feel like that is such a disservice to…every woman on this planet who has ever tried to stand up for what they believed or has been proud as a woman.

What do you want to see happen in terms of the perception of women’s tennis?

I’d like to see people respect women for who and what we are, and what we do. I’ve been working at this since I was three…I don’t think I deserve to be paid less because of my sex, or anyone else, for that matter – in any job.

There’s talk about you going down as one of the greatest female athletes of all time. What do you think when you hear that?

I prefer “one of the greatest athletes of all time.”

Do you think you play a role in empowering kids and people?

I do. I can be a role model. I don’t know if it has to be bigger or stepping up more…What I know is that it’s a very difficult time for everyone involved and a scary time…[Being a role model] is why I ultimately feel like I’m here. I’ve been given such a great opportunity. I’ve been given so much talent. I’ve been put in a position where I can inspire…

Anyone, any kid that wants to be something, has dreams…I didn’t come from any money or anything, but I did have a dream and hope. That’s really all you need. We shouldn’t put any female athlete in a box. Why do we have to be limited to [being known as] just female athletes? We all work really hard. We want to be known as athletes.

You spoke poignantly about what’s happening in our country now [relating to the many shootings]. You said we have to learn to love each other and it’s going to take work and education. What did you mean?

It’s so much. I don’t know where to begin. It’s not anything that’s going to happen overnight…People have to reach down within themselves and just try to be better. Will it happen? I don’t know. I think if we can all take it within ourselves and try to improve ourselves, then maybe we can work on something. Violence is never the answer. It only hurts innocent people, innocent families on both sides of the spectrum.

S.L. Price wrote that for better, for worse, for great and not so great reasons, you are an embodiment of America.

Well, I’ll have to sit on those words.

He said that for a lot of women, African-Americans and others, you’re a go-to person, that your victories are their victories.

That’s awesome. A lot of people I run into say, “Serena when you’re winning, you’re winning for us,” or, “We pray for you.” That really helps me do better.

What’s this about you studying medicine?

I’m studying biology/kinesiology…My goal is pre-med, but I want to focus on holistic medicine, because I like to heal myself holistically…I feel that fruits and vegetables and the earth can really heal…[They’re part of] this planet for a reason. It’s good to clean out your system…Every year I always do an herbal cleanse for a couple weeks and eat lots of raw greens and veggies.

Why did you do Beyoncé’s video, “Lemonade”?

It was fun. I’ve known the director since I was nine and I know Beyoncé. They were like, “We’d love you to be in this song about strength and courage.”…She wanted me to be really free and dance like nobody’s looking and go all out…I don’t know if it solved social issues or anything, [but] I definitely think it addresses some. Her music is bold.

For years, your family has had one incredible storyline after another.

I’m surprised [at] the longevity of it…When you’re younger and have a dream, that’s one thing. But for it to happen – it’s just a completely different emotion.

How important is it to you to keep your No. 1 ranking?

I’ve always thought I’m No. 1. And in everyone else’s mind, even when I was injured they’re like, “You’re No. 1″…Now my goal is winning tournaments, and the ranking will come.

How do you maintain your desire?

[Tennis] is what I do. I’m very competitive playing Uno, or whatever…Honestly, I’m just blessed to be able to be good at what I do.

Talk about your two great strengths – your serve and your mental toughness.

My serve is usually really good. I don’t know how it came about, though. I’m not as tall as the others. It’s strange that I have such a strong, hard serve. But what I think really is my game is my mental toughness…to be able to come back when I’m down. On the court and after tough losses, to continue to come back and continue to fight. That takes a lot of tenacity.

We’re all starting to talk about Margaret Court’s 24 Slams…Is that a worry?

No, not for me. I’ve learned a lot about 22. I learned not to get involved in those debates.

Do you remember your 22 individual Slams?

There are definitely some blurs…I remember [Slams] one through four. [They get] really blurry after that.

In your last three losses, you showed incredible dignity. How important is that?

It’s definitely important, but it’s who I’ve become and who I am – definitely being genuinely happy for the people that I lost to…For me the success of another female should be the inspiration for the next…These ladies inspire me to want to do better. Why would I be jealous?….I just feel honored that I’m welcoming them to this unique position with open arms.

Who is Serena as a woman?

I’m a good friend. I’m caring. I’m very, very emotional. I’m giving.

Do you consider yourself a brand?

I do consider Serena Williams a brand as well as a person. It’s a good brand. I’d invest in it.

Are you hungry for more? Can you imagine yourself doing this for three, four, five more years?

I’m living for the moment and trying to enjoy and embrace it. I’ll go on to the next title and see how I feel…I’m still having fun…[But] I’m not playing as much. I’m zeroed in on those tournaments I play.

Does it give you gratification to break some of Navratilova’s longevity records?

Yeah, absolutely. That’s awesome, to be the grandma in a tournament.

The BBC had a broadcast of you reading the Maya Angelou poem, “Still I Rise.”

It’s an extremely powerful poem which meant a lot to me last year. I’ve been a fan of hers…The words are so strong and encouraging and it makes you [think]…It describes me. I knew Maya…I used to hang out with her.

There are a lot of lines in “Still I Rise” about being criticized and people misunderstanding…

One of the most powerful lines I like is, “Don’t get me twisted with your bitter twisted lies,” and, “Were you happy to see me down, were you sad when I fell down?” One of my favorite parts is, “I’m the hope and the dream of the slaves.” Those really resonate because that’s what my ancestors were. I’m the product of that. If you break down those words, it was a dream, probably, of my ancestors to be here…Because of their perseverance…[they] let me have this opportunity and it’s so, so touching and amazing.

Your dad would speak affectionately about his mother and her life as a Louisiana sharecropper. Can you imagine if she were alive now?

My dad was so close to her and she was always supportive. I don’t think she could’ve envisioned this. For my grandparents to come from where they were…She may have been born in 1912…From that age to today – even though we still have problems – it would be so encouraging. She’d be so proud.