Closing in on her 21st birthday, Serena Williams seems to have it all: No. 1 in the world in women’s tennis, four Grand Slam singles titles to her credit, 17 victories on the WTA Tour, an Olympic gold medal (in doubles with sister Venus), over $9 million in prize money (plus who knows how much in lucrative endorsement contracts), her own clothing line and — perhaps most impressive of all — she and Venus have been featured on the animated hit TV series “The Simpsons.”
But recently, the Florida-based tennis phenom has experienced some of the darker sides of fame. At last month’s U.S. Open, which Serena won by beating sister Venus in the final, a German fan who had been pursuing Serena across the globe was arrested for stalking. Prior to that, Williams admitted that to avoid being constantly hassled while out in public, she became addicted to Internet shopping, spending up to six hours a day online in her hotel room buying all manner of useless items.
So, does she ever feel like chucking it all, maybe wish she were attending classes at USC or working anonymously in a bank somewhere?
Not a chance.
“I can’t say that I’ve ever felt that way,” Serena says in an interview shortly after her opening victory Wednesday at the Toyota Princess Cup at Tokyo’s Ariake Colosseum. “I really enjoy my life.
“I’ve kind of gotten used to not being able to go places, not doing things that other people might be able to do. But I can’t say that I’ve ever wished that I was just a normal person because I like what I do and it kind of opens up doors for different things that I would like to do in the future. It all kind of works out and I think everything happens for a reason.”
Serena continues: “I’m happy with the way I am, although sometimes I wish it wasn’t as much (attention). But I’d rather it be more than less, because if I wasn’t getting as much (publicity), it would probably mean that I was a lower-ranked player.”
As for the Internet addiction, those days are over, says Williams.
“I’m no longer a shopping junkie,” Serena says with a smile. “I made it through a 12-step program and I’m all better now. I’m actually a saving junkie now.”
With Serena now the top-ranked player in the world and with big sister Venus — who is just 22 years old herself — right behind her at No. 2, there’s a chance that tennis fans will be seeing an awful lot of the Williams sisters over the next 10-15 years.
Between them, they have won eight Grand Slam singles titles and 45 singles titles on the WTA Tour. As a doubles team, they have been at times virtually unbeatable.
Serena has won the last three Grand Slams — the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open — and each time it has been her sister on the other side of the net.
With this in mind, is there a chance the public will grow weary of seeing the Williams sisters dominate women’s tennis for years to come?
“To be honest, I don’t understand what the problem is,” says Serena, obviously addressing a subject she finds a little annoying. “Tiger Woods pretty much dominates golf. At one point Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert dominated (women’s) tennis, not to mention all the players ahead of them, but suddenly when Venus and I start playing a little better people say that it’s going to get boring, and it’s really not. We’re on the cover of every magazine — the New York Times, USA Today, countless magazines — so it’s obviously getting good press.
“It’s really no problem. I don’t understand why . . . I think that very few people, maybe a couple of players, think that way, but other than that I think the interest will always be there, no more than people will get tired of golf.”
Serena and sister Venus have changed the face of women’s tennis, of that there can be no doubt, so you’d better get used to seeing a lot of them for a long time. Now if only they could get Bart to clean up his language and Homer to lay off the beer and doughnuts . . .