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Ace in T.O.: Serena Williams talks to AfroToronto.com's Laina Dawes

17 Aug 2005

“No one really knows what one goes through in their lives. If you are going through a lot of personal stuff it’s hard to compete and perform at a very high level .”—Serena Williams

Does anyone really know Serena Williams? In town to play at the 2005 Rogers Cup at the Rexall Centre, Williams looked refreshed, but a tad weary as she entered the room for her first official press conference and sat down at a plastic table surrounded by reporters. The night before, Williams had been schmoozing at the “Aces are Wild Gala”, an event to promote junior women’s Tennis in Canada. And while many of the male guests at the party wore resplendent custom-fitted suits and expensive cocktail dresses for the women, they all craned their necks when Williams arrived, looking self-assured though cautious of the cameras and photographers and wearing tight-fitting jeans and a tank top. Instead of commenting on her casual outfit, men drooled and gushed at the 5’10 statuesque beauty as she made her way to the VIP blackjack tables.

But while people leaned over the velvet rope to get a look, Williams played the game – both blackjack and posing for the snapping cameras and star-struck fans. It was obvious that while she seemed extremely polite and patient with the crowd and the photographers, she had done this way too many times before.

For a 23 year-old who has been in the spotlight since she was a tween, Williams knows what to say and how to say it. At the press conference, sports reporters asked her about her game, her health and tried to rile up some controversy as her closest competition, 2004’s Wimbledon winner Maria Sharapova pulled out of the tournament at the last minute. But she never wavered from her calm composure.

With a new reality show, Venus and Serena: For Real, a book, Venus and Serena: Serving from the Hip: 10 Rules for Living, Loving and Winning, running her own fan website, her fashion design company and an emerging acting career, Williams is one busy woman. AfroToronto.com decided to further investigate the burning question that most fans can’t find within the sport sections of the newspaper: Who is Serena Williams? We talked to her about her life outside of the tennis court.

AfroToronto.com: How do you like Toronto?

Serena Williams: I love Toronto, and I’ve actually shot a couple of films here, so as I am travelling around the city I realize, Oh, I shot this scene here and here. I have a lot of good memories about Toronto. I try to make it to tournaments that I say I am going to play and it’s really hard but I really, really wanted to be here.

AfroToronto.com: When in your life did you first feel comfortable with yourself? What is it about you that, one day made you say to yourself, ‘you know what, I can deal with this, the outside opinions are not important to my game or to who I am as a person?

Serena Williams: I think that came a couple of years ago after I decided that….I don’t really read what everyone writes because sometimes they can say really positive things about me, sometimes they can say something that is supposed to be positive but has negative connotations. You can also get a big head, so for me it was just to stop reading. I just realized that I have to focus on me and I’m comfortable with my game.

AfroToronto.com: How is the reality show going and what is the responses from viewers?

Serena Williams: It’s going really well. Last week we topped the ABC’s Family Wednesday program ratings again, and I’m happy with that. The show is kinda funny. There are a lot of funny moments and you get to see really what life is like on the Tennis court and playing and the hectic schedule. It’s been a lot of fun. We are really focused and we work really hard, we do have other interests but at the end of the day we’re just Tennis players. We were EP’s [Executive Producers] on the show so we had control over our own images. One of the strangest and silliest things that happened during the taping was that I broke up with someone on the show. I forgot that the cameras were on during a match that Venus was playing.

AfroToronto.com: Did your boyfriend know?

Serena Williams: Yes, but we thought that the cameras were just going to record the match. [She laughs].

AfroToronto.com: Have you been getting a lot of responses back about your book with Venus from young women who are finding it inspirational?

Serena Williams: Definitely. I ran into a girl in Atlanta at Whole Foods [an American health food store]; I’m always at Whole Foods and she was wearing a brace. She had just had back surgery and she was crying when she saw me. She told me that she had read the book and that it had really inspired her. And I felt really good, because I told her that she shouldn’t be ashamed because of her brace because it wasn’t permanent. You have to love yourself. She said that people make fun of her, and I told her that they are just unhappy with themselves. And she really liked one of the chapters, and you know what? I have to go back and read that chapter!”

AfroToronto.com: What is your take on the differences, if any, between the U.S and Canada when it comes to racial diversity and race relations?

Serena Williams: I think it probably is the same as it is in the states. I’ve shot one show here where I was really poor, and I lived in a really bad neighbourhood, so I was able to see the other side of Toronto. I can’t really remember the part [of Toronto] I was in, but there was graffiti everywhere, and it was really bad, so that was interesting. I was a little bit surprised. You have so much more diversity here; especially a lot more South Asians. I was able to see a parade for the Pakistani community this past weekend.

AfroToronto.com: I read that Maya Angelou is your favourite writer. Are there any other authors you are currently feenin’?

Serena Williams: Yes, I really like her [Angelou’s] background - well not like it, but it reminds me so much of my background. Her struggles, her trials, it’s really…awful to have to go through those things. When you read some of her literature and her poetry as well, you can really tell it’s from the heart. And I can relate to a lot of stuff she says. I like to read. I’m more into fiction. I love this writer, Marian Keyes, I believe she’s Irish.

AfroToronto.com: What drives you, after all these years to compete on such a high level?

Serena Williams: Tiger Woods motivates me [she laughs]. He’s 27, 28, so he’s got almost seven years on me. I love him, I think he is incredible. I have an unofficial competition going on.

Williams played her last Rogers Cup match on Tuesday August 16th defeating Stephanie Cohen-Aloro of France 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. Unfortunately she had to withdraw from the tournament on Wednesday August 17th because of ankle problems. “Because of my ankle injury I had to take some time off ,” Williams said in a press release.

For more on Serena Williams, check out her Website at: www.serenawilliams.com

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