Tuesday 20 March 2018

Serena Williams says of her public image: 'I’m black so I look mean?' as she targets Australian Open return

Serena Williams. Photo: Getty Images
Serena Williams. Photo: Getty Images

Charlie Eccleshare

The tennis circuit may currently be decimated by the absences of a number of its stars, but the most successful player of them all Serena Williams is plotting her return.

Although due to give birth next month, the heavily pregnant Williams told Vogue in a wide-ranging interview which touched on race and body image that she is targeting a comeback at January's Australian Open.

“It’s the most outrageous plan,” she said. “I just want to put that out there. That’s, like, three months after I give birth. I’m not walking anything back, but I’m just saying it’s pretty intense.”

“In this game you can go dark fast. If I lose, and I lose again, it’s like, she’s done. Especially since I’m not 20 years old. I’ll tell you this much: I won’t win less. Either I win, or I don’t play.”

Williams went on to say that she feels some of the criticism she receives for confrontational attitude on the court is partly due to her race.

“I feel like people think I’m mean,” she said. “Really tough and really mean and really street. I believe that the other girls in the locker room will say, ‘Serena’s really nice.’ But Maria Sharapova, who might not talk to anybody, might be perceived by the public as nicer. Why is that? Because I’m black and so I look mean? That’s the society we live in. That’s life. They say African Americans have to be twice as good, especially women. I’m perfectly OK with having to be twice as good.”

In the modern era, no-one has been as good as Williams, who surpassed Steffi Graf's total of 22 grand slams at this year's Australian Open, the last time she stepped onto a tennis court. Yes in spite of her unrelenting success, Williams has sometimes been charged with playing a one-dimensional power game - an accusation she makes light of.

“Not only me, but women in general sometimes feel that power is a bad word,” said Williams. “As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to feel differently about it. Power is beauty. Strength is beauty. So now on the court I want people to think that I’m powerful. But I also want them to be shocked at how I play. I want people to expect something, then get something different.”

Returning to the issue of race, Williams said: “Being black and being on the cover was really important to me.

“The success of one woman should be the inspiration to another, and I’m always trying to inspire and motivate the black girls out there. I’m not a model. I’m not the girl next door. But I’m not hiding. Actually, I look like a lot of women out there. The American woman is many women, and I think it’s important to speak to American women at a time when they need encouragement. I’m not political, but I think everyone is worried, to a degree.”

Online Editors

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport