Tennis superstarstar, Serena Williams is made the cover star of this month’s Time magazine and she opened up about her complicated comeback.
The 36-year-old, who welcomed a child only a few months ago and soon went back to begin playing professionally, spoke at length to writer Sean Gregory about her struggles on the court and also about her motherhood fears. She also discussed her marriage with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, admitting she was surprised she fell in love with a white man.
On the Time cover, Serena, who nearly died after complications from an emergency C-section while delivering her daughter Alexis Olympia, is seen clad in a black crop top that exposed her midriff. A thin scar can be seen on her abdomen, with the coverline reading: “Nothing about me right now is perfect. But I’m perfectly Serena.”
Speaking about her marriage to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Serena said she always assumed she would marry a black guy but she and Alexis just clicked when they met.
She said: “I always assumed I’d marry a black guy. I always felt that I could relate more with a black guy, that we’d have more struggles in common, you know?”
Serena’s need to return to tennis and also her need to never leave her daughter collided when her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, told her that unless she stopped breastfeeding Olympia, she would not return to the top of the tennis ranks. But Serena refused and nursed Olympia for the first eight months of her life.
Serena’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, says she made choices that put her family above her career, including staying home with Olympia and Ohanian rather than going early to Europe for clay-court prep.
He said: “I felt the decisions were taken through the angle of the family, where before, every decision was taken through the angle of tennis. This is a big difference. Even if you are Serena, if you want to be successful in tennis, tennis has to be priority No. 1.”
Serena believes breastfeeding her daughter made it harder for her to get back into playing shape but said that was her utmost priority.
Speaking to Time, Serena said: “You have the power to sustain the life that God gave her. You have the power to make her happy, to calm her. At any other time in your life, you don’t have this magical superpower.”
Speaking about Mouratoglou telling her to stop nursing, she said: “It’s absolutely hard to take from a guy. He’s not a woman, he doesn’t understand that connection, that the best time of the day for me was when I tried to feed her.”
Olympia is almost always on her mother’s mind and Serena keeps looking for ways to balance her life as an athlete and as a mother.
“Sometimes she just wants Mommy, she doesn’t want anyone else,” Serena says, nearly choking up. “I still have to learn a balance of being there for her, and being there for me. I’m working on it. I never understood women before, when they put themselves in second or third place. And it’s so easy to do. It’s so easy to do.”
She also revealed that she fell prey to peer pressure on social media by posting a photo of her post-pregnancy body on Instagram. She says now that she used a waist trainer to push in her stomach so she could impress.
“I hated that I fell victim to that,” she says. “It puts a lot of pressure on women, young and old.”
Serena also spoke about how motherhood affects women in the workplace. Since returning to the tour, for example, Serena has spoken out about gender discrimination in the workplace, questioning why women coming back from maternity leave should lose their seeds in a tournament draw.
Williams was the top-ranked player in the world before she had Olympia. At the French Open, she did not receive a seed–a penalty that could dissuade other players from having children.
“It would be nice to recognize that women shouldn’t be treated differently because they take time to bring life into this world,” Serena says.
She’s not the first player to come back after giving birth, but it wasn’t until she did that the U.S. Open pledged to incorporate maternity decisions into its seeding process.
Serena also addressed discrepancies in drug testing. The United States Anti-Doping Agency has tested Serena five times in 2018, according to its records. Meanwhile, Sloane Stephens, who won the U.S. Open a year ago, has been tested once. Serena called such differences “discrimination” on Twitter and thinks it’s because some people won’t accept that she’s clean.
“Look at me,” she says, glancing at her herself in a mirror at home. “I was born this way. They’re like, ‘Oh, she can’t be that great, she must be doing something.’ I don’t even lift weights. It’s all God, you know. But whatever.”
Serena says she wants Olympia to have a sibling. She’s learning on the job, like all parents. She still gets down, and has moments when she doesn’t want to hang out with Olympia and then feels terrible for it. And then there’s all the time she can’t bear to pry herself away, despite knowing that her game will suffer for it. But mostly, Serena is learning to recognize the swings, tell herself they’re normal and fight the urge to beat herself up.
“Nothing about me right now is perfect,” she says. “But I’m perfectly Serena.”