Serena Williams is on the cover of New York Magazine’s fall fashion issue, looking seriously regal and powerful as usual.
The profile itself largely focuses on Serena’s unparalleled dominance in tennis and her post-retirement fashion ambitions—the story starts with her ineffectively trying to sell her line, Serena’s Signature Statement Collection, on HSN.
With Serena on her way to winning her fourth grand slam at age 33, this sentence alone puts her career in major perspective. Kerry Howley writes:
The last time a man as geriatric as Serena won a grand slam was 1972. She has won three in the past six months.
Serena says of her career, “I didn’t think it would last this long.”
More excerpts from the cover story below.
On her many trophies:
“I have lots of trophies, and I’m just — I’m not that person that needs to see all these trophies. I have some in my house here, some in my house there, some I don’t know what happened to ’em. I have my grand-slam trophies … somewhere.”
On her and Venus’ fashion ambitions (Serena originally wanted to design wedding dresses):
“That was my first real love, but then I was like, Listen. I’m playing professional tennis. I’ll just do athleticwear.”
On how she’s changed the game (note the subtle shade):
“My dad taught us to have early preparation. I notice the other girls have similar preparations to mine, and I’m like, ‘Hmmm … well, you don’t want to admit where you got that from, right?’”
On the infamous racist Indian Wells game:
“All I could see was a sea of rich people — mostly older, mostly white — standing and booing lustily, like some kind of genteel lynch mob.” Then, “I don’t mean to use such inflammatory language.”
On being fined for her “shove it down your fucking throat” outburst:
“I just think it was weird. I just really thought that was strange. You have people who made a career out of yelling at line judges. And a woman does it, and it’s like a big problem. But you know, hey.”
Howley notably takes time to break down the double standards Serena faces as a supreme black female athlete, which is especially significant in the wake of The New York Times’ ridiculous article comparing Serena’s body to other white tennis players. She writes:
Inevitably, the sisters’ on-court style was described as “confrontational.” One sensed in early accounts of the Williams sisters’ dominance, and senses even now, a certain tightening of the available vocabulary in describing a muscular black woman on the court. Doubles-sideline-to-doubles-sideline-in-three-strides is an act of avian grace, and yet Serena is perpetually “crushing” and “slamming” and “rolling over,” as if the entire sports commentariat picked up English at a construction site. It’s instructive here to spend a few minutes googling “Roger Federer,” two words that inspire sportswriters to pseudo-spiritual cant: Federer crushes and slams but also “lifts” and “lobs” and “taps,” his stroke “liquid,” his forehand a humanity-saving treatise on the seraphic potential of the fallen human form, his feminine delicacy evidence that he exists on a higher spiritual plane.
When Serena and Venus are called “masculine,” when they are accused of having been born male, when the head of the Russian Tennis Federation calls them “the Williams brothers,” it is not meant as a compliment. This impulse may also explain why Serena Williams, who has prevailed over Maria Sharapova 18 times and fallen to her only twice, makes less in endorsements than her blonde Russian counterpart, and why last month political pundit David Frum, whom no one has ever accused of being excessively masculine, publicly speculated that Serena was on steroids, whereas Venus had stopped juicing in order to get pregnant.
It would’ve been great to hear Serena’s take on this in the piece, but she keeps a safe distance from inflammatory remarks. When asked about the burden of representing her race, Serena says, “I don’t think about it. I don’t dwell in the past. If I do, I’ll be swallowed up by negativity. As Mandela once said, ‘I will be in a mental prison.’”
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Image by photographer Norman Jean Roy via New York