ALL HAIL THE QUEEN:
Serena Williams is Back on Top

ALL HAIL THE QUEEN:
Serena Williams is Back on Top

The first lady of tennis was down, but never out. Glenn Minnis examines the triumphs, tragedies and resurgence of Compton's golden girl

by Glenn Minnis, July 10, 2012

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ALL HAIL THE QUEEN:
Serena Williams is Back on Top

Serena Williams wins Wimbledon.

Julian Finney, Getty Images

"Well, I was in the studio with friends and I wanted to do something and so they said – do this and it was for me,” Serena Williams now says of the rap demo now heard round the world and once rumored to be her foray in the game.

“The next thing I know… I was a rapper, and so my backstabbing friends did that to me and so if I see them, I will act like a rapper—if you can get my drift.”

It’s the story of Serena Williams life— old school style and sentimentality, missed with unbridling, impassioned and candid resolve. Given that, maybe, just maybe the current Vogue Magazine cover girl might want to reassess her future options. 

Say what you will about Williams, but the now 30-year-old unofficial first lady of the World Tennis Association keeps it real where her hard knock life is concerned.  Always has, over the course of a career that has netted upwards of $30 million in gross earnings and experienced all the volleys, peaks and valleys one might come to expect from someone so singularly committed over the course of two decades. And her dominance in England this past weekend, netting her fifth Wimbledon singles title attest to that. For good measure, she later teamed with big sister Venus to add yet another top honor in doubles.

"This one obviously is special to me because it's a huge comeback for me,” Williams said of arguably her most prominent victory in a career that seems full of them. “I’m as proud as I’ve ever been.” 

To think it all began with Williams father, Richard, marching her and older sister Venus down to the neighborhood park where he trained them on the finer point s of a game he, himself had never played. Almost overnight and largely sans many of the thought-to-be rudimentary tenements that go hand-and-hand with the game’s mastery, the two prodigies, “Ghetto Cinderellas” as their father adoringly termed them went from the debris-strewn courts of their Compton neighborhood to the pristine stage of Wimbledon’s spotlight. Along the way, there was no junior circuit, no prolonged or extended training regiments to speak of.

Still, Serena Williams was serving pro circuit competition by her 14th birthday. From there her history pretty much speaks for itself— to the tune of 18 Grand Slam titles, 41 singles and 20 doubles championships, a pair of Olympic gold medals and countless player of the year awards. And to this day, she’s still coached by father and mother Oracene Price

And in Serena’s mind, it all stems from a chance encounter. The way she recalls it her father was watching a TV match one day when he heard the announcer say the winner would make $40,000 in earnings. From that point on, the destiny of the Williams sisters destiny seemed charted for them.

But with Serena being Serena, could that ever really be? Even now, arguably the G.O.A.T. of the WTA, nationally recognized voice of the Nike and Gatorade brand, continues to evolve so much you never quite seem able to pigeonhole her.

Budding businesswoman, impassioned fashion designer and aspiring actor, Williams more recently has lent her megastar power to a co-owner partnership deal with the likes of LeBron James, Chris Paul and Amare Stoudemire for a natural sleep aid called Sleep Sheets, which purports to aid insomnia sufferers in returning to natural sleep patterns and habits.

In addition, Williams is also being billed to star in an upcoming episode of the Lifetime drama Drop Dead Diva, where she will play an attorney representing R& B star Brandy.

Of all her many endeavors, Williams’ heart seems most wrapped in the threads she creates while designing.  I was born to be a designer,” she said. “I don’t know how I know and just do the things I do…I just start sketching and I just know colors.”

Whatever her style or approach, Williams fashions and accessories have proven a big hit on the Home Shopping Network, where she offers a collection in which everything retails for less than $100.

 “Everything you get from me is great quality. I think for those prices and this quality, it’s a no brainer,” she said. Beyond that,  she attributes her success to being able to connect directly with consumers and share her enthusiasm with them in real-time. “I think on live television people really get to see my personality and how really I feel about clothes and fashion.”

Over the years, Williams’ newfound expertise has extended to her own court wear, including recently when she designed a baby blue, waist cinched tennis dress for Nike that she also donned at the 2011 Australian Open.“It really just makes your waist look like you have a Scarlett O’Hara waist, like a 14-inch waist,” she said. “My style in the beginning was really outgoing and now it’s a little more conservative. We’re still trying to pick up that aspect of being really fun for everyone.”

Williams’ voice rises to a similar pitch and crescendo when she speaks of plans of penning her own script and casting herself as her own leading lady. “I’ve always felt I would make for a great super woman,” she said. “I feel I have both the inner and outer strength to pull it off. And yeah, I definitely think most people would agree I have the body for it.”

And with that, Serena Williams may well have much of her would-be audience at hello. Just ask yourself, has the physique of any other athlete on the history of the planet ever been more a subject of such widespread, across-the-board consternation?

Such issues progressed— or shall we say digressed—to the point of absurdity back in late 2010 when Fox News columnist Jason Whitlock torched Williams with the scathing indictment: “Serena Williams is an underachiever.  "She'd rather eat, half-ass her way through non-major tournaments and complain she’s not getting the respect her championship resume demands.”

The tirade was indeed enough to capture Williams’ undivided attention. Enough to rail her in to action, convince her to… well, say yes to posing semi-nude for ESPN’s inaugural “Body Issue.” “Doing the ESPN shoot was my way of saying ‘this is me’ to all my fans and other young females out there,” said Williams, who joined the likes of Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard and Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson for the covers.

”I love my body, my curves, my hips, giant boobs and tush,” she added. “There’s this crazy notion that I don’t work out really hard or regularly because I have huge figures. I’ve been called a cow, mocked as fat, and a loser. If I didn’t eat at all or stayed in the gym all day and night, I’m never going to be a size two. I feel I’m the woman I was born to be.”

Much of that confidence stems from the nurturing and inseparable relationship she’s always shared with older sister Venus. “She’s always been my hero,” she said of her Venus. “She’s always cast a big shadow. So much so that in her 2009 autobiography Queen of the Court, Serena recalls how when they were younger and the family would go out to ear her mother would make her order first— just so she wouldn’t automatically chose to have whatever Venus was having. 

“It was always Venus this and Venus that, and mom wanted me to learn to speak my mind,” she said. “Venus has always been my protector.” Even now, Williams insist, it’s her mother who always seems the most vociferous when tough decisions or times come their way.

“People think my dad’s the tough one because he can be so outspoken, but he’s a sweetheart,” she said. “Mom, she has no problem sitting you down and giving you the business when she feels she needs to.”

None of that is to say Serena Williams hasn’t come to know her own share of heartache and anguish. Just a year ago, she lay bedridden after badly cutting her foot during a restaurant accident where she wearing sandals. As she sought to recuperate, doctors discovered that life-threatening blood clots were forming on her lungs and she was later diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism that caused her to suffer severe breathing difficulties.

So stacked were the odds against arguably the most dominant figure in the history of women’s sports that doctors weren’t even sure she would survive, let alone ever play again

"I was literally on my deathbed at one point," sighed a teary-eyed Williams. “I didn’t know what to expect … I’ve never been so afraid in all my life. I’ve learned this really isn’t a matter of life and death … I know what that really feels like.”

Even now, heartbroken enough by relationship failures to proclaim “I have given up on dating. It just hasn’t worked out well for me,” Williams strives to keep it all in perspective. While scuttlebutt has it that the  relationship which has left her so jaded stems from her breakup with rap star Common, such speculation misses the larger point of her growth in deciding to simply live life one day at a time.

“Life is a journey, something that’s always changing and evolving,” said Williams. “You just have to be strong in your faith, strong in your convictions and strong in your resolve to know things will work themselves out,” she added. “That what life has taught me. Sometimes all you’re left with is your faith.”

Glenn Minnis is a veteran sports and culture writer who has contributed to the likes of ESPN, Vibe and the NFL Magazine. He has also been on staff at AOL Sports, the Chicago Tribune and was the founding sports editor for 360HipHop.com.

 
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