Serena Williams bidding to win all four grand slams in a calendar year
Star says it "hasn't been easy" since sister Venus diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome
Venus' illness prompted Serena to switch from a business course to pre-med
She stands on the brink of writing another chapter in tennis history, but Serena Williams has other things on her mind just now.
Police violence, college studies, her sister’s health, the rise of female role models in society – the American has plenty to distract her as she plots her title defense at Flushing Meadows.
One of the biggest stars the game has ever seen will become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in a calendar year if she triumphs in New York next month.
But in a wide-ranging interview, Williams told CNN’s Open Court show the prospect of that achievement was something she “doesn’t really think about.”
As well as dominating the women’s game this year, Williams has been studying as a pre-med college major – potentially preparing the way for medical school – while also speaking out about the African-American experience in the U.S.
Earlier this month, she took to Twitter to voice fears of an unfolding “gigantic bad nightmare” after Christian Taylor, an unarmed black college footballer, was fatally shot by a white policeman in Texas.
“I think not just me, but a lot of people in America and outside America, are frustrated and concerned and really scared,” Williams said. “You know, if I had a kid … you wouldn’t want them to get in trouble or, you know, do anything.
“I really think it just boils down to people as a nation pulling together. And it’s not just me speaking out. There are a lot of people speaking out. And we’re asking the same question: ‘Why?’”
She said speaking out on such issues “maybe won’t help,” but added: “Maybe it’ll reach the right ears at the right time.”
The achievements of a number of women both inside and outside sport also haven’t escaped Williams’ notice.
With the U.S. women’s soccer team having won the World Cup in Canada in July, and the appointment of Jen Welter – believed to be the first woman to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL – by the Arizona Cardinals, the tennis star said she felt that “we as women are on the rise.”
“I think it’s going to have a great effect,” she explained. “You know, I get chill bumps thinking about all this stuff that women are doing in sports.
“I think it can have a ripple effect. There is a lot of stuff outside of sports – a lot of women CEOs that I look up to and a lot of women that are empowering and are doing really well. And it is something that is just a great thing.
“When I was growing up I didn’t see anyone that was my color, strong, powerful, beautiful and representing a lot of things outside of just one thing on the (magazine) covers. And I think, hopefully, that I can inspire someone else.”
Williams revealed it “hasn’t been easy” since her sister and fellow champion Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, a condition that affects the immune system, in 2011.
She said the diagnosis had informed the studies she had chosen – she switched from a business course to pre-med – and made her focus on “being able to find alternative ways of being healthy and not having to take all these medicines.”
That, she explained, meant “holistic medicines and stuff,” adding: “I kind of really want to focus on that in my field, and I think it’s also healthier and better.
“And if something happens, it’s always good to know yourself, what’s going on and what you can do.”
So how does she balance the twin demands of tennis and study?
“I like education and I don’t like to sit still,” she said. “I don’t like any free time – I like to keep going and going. And I realize that’s just a craziness that I have, and that’s just who I am. And, yeah, I like it.”
But what about the tennis? How much is the prospect of emulating German great Graf weighing on her mind?
“I don’t really think about it – and quite frankly, I don’t really want to talk about it,” she said simply.
If she does win, though, how will she celebrate?
“I’ve faced a lot of adversities. I’ve learned that I have a tough mind,” she explained. “And if I win the U.S. Open, I’m going to take a vacation. I’ll just take a deep breath and disappear.”