While it's easy to be overawed when sitting one-on-one with one of the world's most powerful and dominant athletes, we managed to calm our nerves before facing the famous curves of Serena Williams. Fresh from a press conference where she unveiled the Nike Black History Month range and her new 2012 outfit, Serena was utterly charming and vivacious. Read on as we get the scoop and whether she prefers Kobe or Le Bron!
Welcome to Melbourne Serena. You’ve won the Australian Open so many times, you must enjoy it here.
I don’t know if it’s politically correct for me to say this, but it’s by far my favourite Grand Slam.
I bet you say that to all the boys.
No, I do… I say it to all the boys but not just about the Grand Slams!
I was listening to you talk before about your new Nike dress for this tournament and I realized you must live in summer all year long. Is that weird?
I know, it’s my job! I have an endless summer. Traveling the world constantly when it’s summer time is what I do. It’s cool, but it’s super hot here. (laughs)
I know you are an enthusiastic advocate for Black History Month, but it’s something that probably doesn’t mean a lot to anyone outside the USA.
I am. Well it’s in February, so it’s a great month, and it’s something I totally support. Nike now raise awareness for Black History Month internationally, which is cool because they could have just left this as strictly a United States thing. I think every Nike athlete in the United States will be playing in a Black History Month shoe, which is really cool as well. But in general it’s just about raising awareness – and that includes other minorities as well. It’s not just about black people. When you have athletes doing so well and becoming an inspiration and a role model for so many people, it’s an incredible positive.
Some athletes don’t like the idea of being a role model. Do you feel like a role model for women and other black American athletes?
Yeah I do. I love it, it’s important for kids to know that you can be successful and you can be strong, especially when you’re a female. You can still be sexy as well, you can be powerful, but you can still be smart.
With your background in fashion, did you have a role in the evolution of this year’s BHM pieces?
I can’t say I did. Nike came up with this great concept of the stripes on the side, where the colours represent different countries and stories. They represent Kenya, Mississippi, the state’s colours, and the other is Brazil. So it’s cool, it’s a mixture of a lot of different cultures and different aspects, and like I said, it’s international, so that’s why we brought Brazil and Kenya into the mix.
You famously grew up in Compton. Why has tennis been so utterly inaccessible for black American athletes? Aside from your sister, there’s Arthur Ashe of course, plus James Blake, Zina Garrison, Malavai Washington…
I know, but tennis is not an accessible sport in general. It’s always been a rich person’s sport, at least until it was taken to eastern Europe. No-one in eastern Europe is really that rich, but kids were able to get time on a tennis court which kinda knocked it off being an elitist sport. I think that had a lot to do with it. Tennis is expensive. You need to buy rackets, you need to get them strung every week, it takes a lot of money and dedication. But if you have a basketball, you can just hang out with your friends on the street and get good.
Do you associate in any way with Tiger Woods... I don’t mean him being a naughty boy.
Yeah (laughs), it’s kind of… the same thing. Golf is another sport where you need expensive equipment, plus you need membership to play at the golf club or at least money to go to the golf range. It’s good to see people from different backgrounds doing different sports and just doing well; whether they’re a minority, whether they’re black, whether they’re white, whether they’re Smurfs…
Are there young girls coming up in US tennis from a similar background to yours?
Yeah, there are, I think Sloane Stevens is doing a really good job, Madison Keyes is another Nike athlete, she’s an excellent player. So those are two to look out for.
Are you a basketball fan?
I support the Heat, and the Lakers. I’m from LA, but I live in South Florida.
So Kobe or LeBron?
I have to go with the Heat. My heart is with Miami Heat, so… LeBron.
Roger or Rafa?
Do you get asked that question a lot?
Never! I cant, I love them both… I love Roger, and I love Rafa.
Have you ever had a hit with them?
I hit with Rafa before… he was younger, but he had won like eight French Opens by then. I don’t know, it’s a tough choice. If it’s at the French, you root for Roger.
Is tennis still a game to you?
It is a little bit of a game, but I see it more as a job. I also see it as something that, I’m not gonna stop anytime soon. I can’t see myself stopping.