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From the New York Times, this is the interview. I'm David Markezi. A lot of people wind their way into middle age, having achieved some measure of career success, only to ask themselves, Well, now what? And apparently this happens even if you're Serena Williams. Serena, who's now 42 years old, retired from competitive tennis a little under two years ago. She'd won 23 grand slams, more than any woman in the open era, and just one shy of the all-time record. Her level of Fame and achievement, both on and off the court, broke boundaries for Black women and women athletes in general. She is, by just about any account, the best ever at what she did. Since she retired, Williams has directed that drive at some new projects. She's got a venture capital fund and just launched a makeup line. And she and her husband, Reddit co founder Alexis Ohanian, have two small girls. So it's not exactly like she's been idle, but the tennis court still calls. She's gone back to it in a way with a new eight-part documentary called In the Arena, Serena Williams, which will stream on ESPN Plus next month. She told me that revisiting her career through the series has been the first chance she's had to sit back and take in everything she accomplished.


Here's my conversation with Serena Williams. You've been retired from 10 S4. It's not even two full years. One thing that I was thinking about in watching the documentary was really the amazing competitive spirit that you had. I'm curious about where that competitive spirit goes or how it changes once you're no longer playing sports. You're doing the different projects. You've got the Venture Capital Fund, the makeup line. I think you've written a children's book. Did you feel like you... Like, does it go away the next day or did you feel like you had to find a new outlet for it?


For me, it was a necessary thing. I needed to not be done and sit down and wake up and be like, Oh, my God, what just happened? For me, it was like, Thank goodness that I did something that maybe anyone would say was too fast, and not maybe. It was definitely too fast to just throw myself full heart, full body into everything. But that's what I needed to do to survive, so to say, after I've been playing tennis for all my life, I think it would have been really hard. So I just did all that.


When you say something you needed to survive, you mean because you were worried or anxious about the prospect of not having new challenges once tennis was done?


No, it wasn't about not having new challenges. I think it was more around the fact of, listen, you've been doing this since you've been born. Do you even know how to do anything else? My whole mission in life was playing tennis, waking up every day. What are you doing today? Practice. What are you going to do? Train. And then if you get injured, then you're like, What are you doing today? Rehab. So I can't get back to practice. And that had been my life for over 40 years. And so it was like, you don't go from literally a 40-year career to just going, Okay, what do you doing today? Nothing. I don't know. So I needed to just... I think all this was subconscious, too. I obviously wasn't doing this on purpose, but I think I subconsciously just overlapped. So when my career didn't, literally the next day, I had a huge team meeting for Serena Ventures. We were talking about companies. I had fully taken over, and it was just all hands, all me on deck. And I was on every single meeting. I was in every founder meeting. I was in everything. And again, I think it was too much, but I think that was my way of coping because I couldn't go from having purpose for all my life to having no purpose.


Does the having purpose aspect of things also include the scheduling and how you're spending your time? Did you want to maintain a strict or rigorous schedule for yourself?


You know what? No, I didn't know that that's what I was doing. For the record, I didn't realize that. But now I'm wanting to figure out a way to take a break, which I probably should have done earlier, but I don't know if I would have mentally survived that because of my personality I probably would have been back on the tennis court playing tennis. But yeah, now I'm just like, I haven't stopped in my whole life. I've been going nonstop for my entire life, so I need a breather. I really desperately need a breather. So I'm trying to navigate all that now.


Your kids are still pretty young, right?


I have two girls. One is eight months and one is six years old.


Is there a particular understanding that you want your daughters to have about what you accomplished in tennis?


It's tricky, right? Because it's like I want them to understand, but at the same time, that'll come with time. So I'm not really too... You know Olympia told me the other day, You're famous. And I'm like, Not really. I'm just your mom. So I don't know. I just feel like when the time comes, and honestly, when it's settled in for me, too, I know that sounds really crazy, but what it's all settled in for me, I'll definitely have that conversation with them, and I'll let them know, potentially, the important... I don't want to be too presumptuous, But the impact I had, I should say, the impact that I have had on sport and beyond.


Your dad famously saw something in you and in Venus and then worked so hard to help you guys achieve that. He saw something in you and your sister when you guys were real little. I wonder, do you feel like you see something in your daughters in the way that your dad saw something in you?


I don't know. That's a really good question. I feel like, I don't know. I always look at my dad and I think, How are you able to do that? Because I'm like, Oh, they're so cute. I just want them to relax, and I don't want to overpush them. But I would be devastated if I wasn't pushed because we wouldn't be having this interview, and there would never have been a Serena Williams. So I feel so fortunate that I had an opportunity to have that extra, you know what I mean? But for whatever reason, I'm having a hard time connecting to that extra push. And that's something that I've been trying to figure out myself is how to get that extra motivation to my daughters because it's definitely worth it. I can confirm from experience.


It worked out pretty well for you.


It worked out well. But what do I see? I don't know. I think my oldest, I mean, the eight-month-old is so tiny. But I think Olympia is such a bright light. She's so athletic to a point where it's just not even humanly possible. Even Venus, she was like, That kid has more talent than you and I combined, and she's not lying. So it's I can see how my dad may have seen some potential in us. For me, I'm just trying to figure out a way how to harness all that and just do that. I'm like, I already told my dad, maybe you have to coach her because I'm too nice.


Yeah, you're too soft.


I'm too soft. Yeah, there you go.


I can imagine it's an interesting thing that a lot of parents have to think about. It's like you do the hard work and push yourself on some level, maybe, so that your kids don't have to do the hard work. But But then you also want them to achieve. You don't want them to not reach their potential.


Like I said, I know from experience, it was definitely worth it. I can confirm that. For me, it's like trying to get into a place where I do feel comfortable saying like, Okay, girls, we're going to do this every day. But it also takes a lot of commitment from the parent. That's why I said, Now I have so much respect for my mom and my dad, because I was like, Okay, Olympia, we're going to play tennis every Wednesday. Then now I'm like, Do you ever talk with Venus about why she still plays?


Do you understand why she's still out there?


Venus loves tennis, and I think the question will be best answered from her. I do not want to speak for her, but I do know that that's something that... I mean, we both love tennis. Honestly, I feel like I would still be playing if I didn't have to stop and have a family.


Can I ask you a slightly tennis nerdy question?


For sure.


In the documentary, I think it's You're talking, and I think you're reminiscing about after winning your first slam. You say that after that, you really had a bullseye on your back, that the other players on tour were really like, We got to beat the Williams sisters. What did you think that was about back then? And is your perspective on it now different?


I definitely had a red X on me. It was hard. It was People assume that you're not friendly, and that's usually not the case. You're just there to win. People don't really want to talk to winners in a single sport. It's like the birds of a feather flock together, and there's only one winner, and so who are you going to flock with? And if I were to play in soccer, it would be a completely different situation because you have a team of players. I had my mom and my dad, and we kept ourselves really close because We had to. But yeah, I do feel like it shook the world. I mean, come on. A Black girl wins a Grand Slam at 17 years old, and she's from Compton. If you're not going to take notice, the world took notice of it. So Obviously, they took notice. And so it had been a dominated sport by Caucasians. So it was like, whoa, we're having a change in our sport. We don't like that. This isn't normal. Let's not let her win. And so that's, quite frankly, what it was.


Do you find any of the same racial dynamics in play in- No, I didn't say race.


I didn't say that it was racial. I just said that, to be clear, I said that it was a change. And just like anything, you're going to notice if it was an Asian person winning everything when there was only White people winning before. I happened to be Black, and it happened to be me, and I happened to win a Grand Slam, and I happened to be young. And it was like, whoa, this hasn't happened since the '50s. So obviously it's going to take note. And obviously, it was like, well, we're not used to this, so we want to make sure that we make our comeback, too.


This is a semi-random question. Did you see Challenges?


That is so random. And yes, I did see Challenges.




I thought it was good. I wanted there to be more of an ending. I told Zendai, I was like, Listen, is there more? I want more. I don't want to give away the ending. But yeah, I thought it was quite interesting. Did you see it?


I did see it, yeah.


What did you think of it?


I liked it. I just kept wondering about the accuracy of the tennis in it.


I think they did really good, actually. I think for the most part, I thought the tennis was very well done. Yeah.


On any level, did those interpersonal rivalries and dynamics ring true for you?


So, yeah, I thought it was pretty accurate, too, about the tennis player and the relationship that they had. I felt like sometimes you can become really connected to whoever you're with, whether that's a friend, a coach, or codependent, I should say, is a better word. I feel like I was codependent with Venus. I actually felt like there was so much accuracy in there about things that we don't think about as tennis players or even talk about as tennis players. There's definitely a lot of code, depending, I feel. I don't know. It could go both ways. You could also be a loner in tennis. So I don't know. I don't know. Listen, I like the movie. That's all I can say. But everyone is allowed to have their own opinion.


Yeah. I also saw this news come out of the Trump trial that you were in the President's contacts. You guys would talk to each other?


I mean, is this what this interview is about?


When somebody has a chance to talk to a president, I'm curious what they talk to a president about.


I talk to a lot of presidents. I spoke to Barack, I spoke to Clinton's, I spoke to every president since I've been alive, including Ronald Reagan. I'll have you know?


Oh, really? What do you think they're looking for in talking to you? What do they want to know?


I don't know. I'm not going to go there.


Fair enough. You talked a little bit about the idea of your, for lack of a better term, legacy and what you achieved. It does really seem like in the last few years, there has been this explosion of interest in women's sports. I think it's inarguable that you were a big part of that. Do you feel some sense of responsibility for the position women's sports is in now?


No. I would feel that way if it were tennis. I know it's not linear, but I don't want to be presumptuous. Listen, these women are working so hard at what they do. Whether it's Angel Reese or Kaitlyn Clarke, they deserve the attention that they're starting to get. I wasn't there. I was doing my own different thing in tennis. I can't sit here and say that it's because of me that women's sport is doing so good. First of all, that's not me. I don't know if that would be 100% accurate. Women's sports athletes have been great for decades and way before me. I mean, Chris Everett was great, and Martina Nava-Talovo was great. Maybe it's just the buildup of all that decades and decades of greatness. Then people finally catching on that women are awesome and amazing, and they could just kick button sport, too. I don't know. Maybe it's just a full compilation of it all.


I am always curious with athletes about the memories that they have from their careers. Do you find that you... I don't know how much you sit back and think about this stuff, but if you do, does your mind go to the big wins or the losses?


I'm the person to be like, Oh, I hated that I lost that. I try to forget my losses, to be honest. You know what? I actually always refuse to go down memory lane during my career because I always said, That's when you get satisfied and that's how you got to grow and not be better. Because if I'm looking at me and I'm one 18 grand slims, I'll be like, oh, my God, that's amazing. Why am I doing this? And so I didn't want to have that mindset. So I never really looked back. And with everything going on with Serena and Lorraine, I have an opportunity to look back and say, Wow, this has been really cool and really interesting to remember that. It felt good.


Being the subject of a documentary is Obviously something that most people don't get to experience, just seeing your life story played back to you in a narrative fashion. What is that experience like and what were some of the interesting nuances of seeing how someone else understands what the Serena Williams story is?


I am always amazed at people and the excitement they have for what I've done. I'm just like, I'm just a normal person. I've been so in a box of just staying focused and just, I don't know, just doing the best that I could on that day and just that's all I could do. So now just having an opportunity to hear people talk about it almost gets me super emotional. And it's just like, wow. Honestly, I just didn't know. I just didn't know.


Tell me more about that because you were in it, so you couldn't see outside of it?


Yeah, I mean, Obviously, I knew, but it's also just I'm so in it. I would literally win Wimbledon, and I would go back the next day and tell... Not even the next day. I remember having a conversation with my dad being like, Okay, dad, so that was great, but I really want to focus on, I know I can win the open. I literally never really took too much time to settle in and my wins. I just was always looking for the next high, for lack of a better It was always more competition? It was always the next win.


Do you still find yourself looking for the next high?


I have so much more excitement now with just relaxing. This has been a process of trying to find my new normal. Now I'm getting to a point where my day-to-day ends at 12:00, and I'm like, I have a massage at 1:30. It's nice to to have an opportunity to just take a deep breath in and deep breath out because I've never had that. I've always gone from the next thing. I'm trying to enjoy this.


After the break, I call Serena back to talk tennis rivalries and more about what she's looking for in this next era of her life.


I have images of me in a stroller on the tennis court, so it's literally my entire life. It's been about one thing, so I don't know anything else.


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Hi, Serena.


How are you? I'm good. How are you, David?


I'm good. I'm good. Thank you for taking the time again.


I appreciate it. No worries.


You know, one thing that- One second.


What did you say, I'm on the other I think it's not. I'll think about it, but yes.


Was that Olympia?


Sorry, can you hear me? I'm just with my daughter, so.


That's okay. What are you guys doing?


I'm just with her today because she's out of school. Summer time. Yeah.


Well, speaking of Olympia, one of the things that you and I had talked about in our first call that I thought was really interesting was the push and pull and maybe some uncertainty you felt about knowing how much to try and put your child on a path towards greatness and how much to push them in the way that your dad pushed you and your sister. One thing that I thought more about was, what are your husband's thoughts about that? I mean, I assume he wasn't put on a path to excellence in quite the same way as you were. So does he have the same uncertainty? Do you guys find you're on the same? Do you both feel the uncertainty about that subject? I'm going to call.


I'm going to need you just... I need one minute, okay? I'm just on a call, okay? Thank you. Sorry. I'm so sorry.


That's totally okay.


Yeah, it's hard. I actually think it's easier for my husband. I think it's easier for him to be like, Okay, let's go here, go every week or whatever, and just be more of a motivator than I am. But I'm still trying to find that balance because I tell you, and I always say, I wouldn't trade anything that I've done for the world. So why in the world am I not pushing my daughter a little bit more? I was just trying to figure out my balance of pushing versus overpushing. I think the way my dad did it was good, but I just need to get that headspace sooner than later.


Do you find that Olympia responds to being pushed?


I don't know. To be perfectly honest, I don't think I even pushed her enough to see if she's responded, which is a disaster. I'm like, Come on, this is crazy. Do I don't even know the answer to that.


Something else that was interesting to me was that you had said that you felt like you were codependent with Venus when you guys were on tour together. Can you tell me more about what you meant by that? Because codependency usually has a negative connotation, but my hunch is that you didn't mean that negatively.


I don't think so.


Oh, so tell me about it. I don't think so.


I think it's good. I mean, codependent is great in some instances, at least in the instance that I meant it, because we depended on each other. We motivated each other. I think I could see where it could be a negative connotation, but I also think it could be a positive thing. No one could have pushed me. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have been pushed so far. She literally pushed me to train harder and to be on the court more than anybody else and to work harder. That's because we depended on each other to do that and to motivate each other. It's definitely more positive. I'm glad you saw that it It could have been more positive than negative. So thanks for asking me to clarify that. But yeah, I think that's a positive thing.


Last time, I asked you a insider tennis question, and I want to ask you another one. This is just something I was always personally curious about. So I think Sharapova beat you twice pretty early on in your career. Who? Sharapova. Oh, okay. And then you never lost her again. I think you beat her something like 18 times in a row. After that. Did you just decide this person is never beating me again?


You didn't see it? I think that's episode three. I don't want to give it all away.


Oh, they only showed me the first two. Oh, my God.


I'm so sad. You have to see the rest. It's in there. It's definitely in there.


All right. So a teaser. It's a teaser.


You got to wait for it. It's actually really good. But it is. There was a reason why I didn't lose to her, and I explained that.


So that's talking about a bunch of wins that you had, and I know you don't like to talk about losses. Another thing I'm curious about. Okay, so you were so dominant for so long in Grand Slam finals, and then I think you went, Oh, for the last four. Did that have to do with the pressure of trying to catch Margaret Court's Grand Slam record?


I think so. I think it was pressure and pressure I put on myself and too much. I should have won at least two or three of those. There's definitely one I still lost for sure, which I don't think even looking back, I could have won at least one of them, but definitely one, two, or I don't remember the third one. Definitely at least two of them I could have one. It was just too much pressure I put on myself. I couldn't relax. I just couldn't relax and be able to just say, and just breathe. That sucks. Honestly, it does, but nothing I can do about it now. It's not going to change anything, except for how I feel ultimately.


How often do you think about not getting 24?


Never, actually. Oh, good. I never do, which It was good, right? I thought it was much worse than that, but I never do because I had such an amazing career. Quite frankly, honestly, I should have had 30. I feel like I could have had way more than 24.


You posted on social media the other day, a little cryptically.


Oh, boy, here we go. It wasn't cryptic.


Then you were ready to hit balls again? Mm-hmm. What were you referring to?


I literally am ready to hit balls. I haven't hit in a long time. It's my life, and I love it, and I miss it. I miss it so much. I did learn maybe I shouldn't post it on Twitter because people think I'm coming back. I'm like, no. I literally just wanted some balls.


What are you and Olympia going to do today, considering she's off school? What's the plan?


Well, we're just hanging out all day, and I was going to play Roblox with her later. We're going to do that. We had a pedicure this morning. We're just having a girls' day.


Retirement sounds good.


It is. It's fun. It's different. It's a life I've never You have to understand for my entire life since I can remember, I have images of me in a stroller on the tennis court. It's literally my entire life. It's been about one thing, so I don't know anything else. This is all new to me. It's like a whole new career, and it's cool. I have to tell you, it's really cool. Of course, I prefer playing tennis, but it's because I've done it my whole life. Of course, you prefer doing something that you've done since You could walk. That's rare in a career. Usually, people work to get a career, but I've been doing this since I could walk. So definitely a different feeling. I think that's a natural curve that I just have to learn.


It sounds like you really miss tennis.


Yeah, I do. I like that I miss tennis. I would hate to be like, Oh, I hated that so much. That would be such an awful, sad thing for me because tennis meant so much to me, and I didn't realize it was that much to me, to be honest. I didn't realize that I would have such an amazing relationship with tennis after it was all said and done. I love that. I'm really happy that I have that relationship. It's like a good It's like a nostalgia, but nostalgia is positive. I love that.


That's Serena Williams. This conversation was produced by Wyatt Orm. It was edited by Annabelle Bacon, mixing by Affim Shapiro. Original music by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano. Photography by Philip Montgomery. Our senior booker is Priya Matthew, and our senior producer is Seth Kelly. Our executive producer is Allison Benedict. Special thanks to Rory Walsh, Ronan Borelli, Maddie Macielo, Jake Silverstein, Paula Schumann, and Sam Dolnik. If you like what you're hearing, follow or subscribe to The Interview wherever you get your podcasts. And to read or listen to any of our conversations, you can always go to nytimes. Com/theinterview. Next week, Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer. I think you can't win an election in Michigan by double digits if you're not also drawing over people who are not traditional Democrats. And I'm proud of that. I'm David Markezi, and this is The Interview from the New York Times.