Since early March, Serena Williams has operated as a self-described recluse. While the 23-time major champion has kept the tennis community entertained with her Instagram uploads and continued to work on business ventures outside of the sport, she and everyone in the ‘Serena bubble’, have been extremely careful in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
In doing so, Williams stopped going to gyms. With her physios based in Europe, she needed to find an alternative outlet to maintain her fitness. With the help of husband Alexis Ohanian, Williams joined a popular pandemic movement of creating her own—to go with a brand-new court featuring the surface of her home Grand Slam tournament.
“We built a tennis court and we built a gym. It’s so cool,” Williams told tennis reporters in a virtual press conference on Saturday. “The gym’s not quite done. The tennis court is so fun. I go there and it’s my own sanctuary. I’m like, ‘why haven’t I done this 20 years ago?’ We had a few players out there. I’m like, ‘this is the US Open surface, so come hit with me. I tried to get people to come.
“Tennis is naturally a socially-distanced sport so it was kind of easy to go back and walk on my side of the court.”
Next week, Williams will return to her ultimate comfort zone as the top seed (no pun intended) at the inaugural Top Seed Open in Lexington, K.Y. Williams never expected to be in Kentucky for a WTA tournament, and though curious to see how everyone plays after having months to dedicate towards fitness, the change of pace the shutdown offered up won’t be lost on the American.
“Every part of me loved it, actually, because I haven’t been home that long since I was literally a teenager,” Williams reflected. “Even when I was pregnant, I was traveling a lot, I was so many different places. It was nice but it’s also a really cool opportunity to come to Kentucky and kind of be isolating in a different place. I’m still trying to see how I like everything.
“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me. I’m sure I’d be ok, but [it's a], ‘I don’t want to find out kind of thing.’ I have like 50 masks that I travel with. I never want to be without one. I’m super, super careful with what I’ve been doing.”
If there is any player on either tour with a proven ability to return from an extended layoff no matter the circumstances, it’s Williams. From a devastating knee injury to a pulmonary embolism scare to complications after giving birth to daughter Olympia, Williams has demonstrated a remarkable resolve in navigating the unexpected. The current world No. 9 admits however, a sense of gratitude for all the achievements she experienced before the pandemic hit, and being in a position of contentment.
“If I was looking for my first major, it would be crazy,” she shared. “I would be like, ‘wow, this is so intense, so crazy.’ It’s different. I have everything I could ever want. It’s weird. I can’t even describe the feeling. I’m glad I played when I played. I’m glad I was able to have all those fans and everything.”
For Williams, today's landscape has emboldened her not plan too far ahead. Events like the postponed Tokyo Olympics are not on her radar right now. When asked about whether she would feel comfortable flying to Europe for the clay-court tournaments following the US Open, Williams responded, “I see myself doing it all if it happens,” but was quick to bring it back to her key takeaway.
“Like I said, I’m not planning for the future. As tournaments got canceled, I was like, ‘let me work on today, focus on today and see what happens.’”
Williams may not be putting energy on the future right now. But in one that is sure to include more moments on the practice court with soon to be 3-year-old Olympia, it's a tough ask for someone with a combined 39 major titles to completely cast it aside.
“I have her little racquet. Oh my goodness, it is really the cutest picture ever, her ready position,” she told Tennis Channel's Kyle MacLelland later Saturday. “She definitely likes it, but she loves soccer more. Every time she kicks the ball, I'm like, ‘no, here's a racquet!’ So we'll see.”