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Interview with Venus Williams

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  • On Serena: "A lot of people ... think we should fight, and we don't"
  • "I don't remember ever learning how to play, I just remember always knowing how"
  • "Having a solid family and solid religious beliefs has helped me find that stability"
  • "In a way I feel like I get too much credit for equal prize money"
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(CNN) -- Tennis star Venus Williams is a six-time Grand Slam winner with possibly the fastest serve ever seen in the women's game. With the Australian Open under way, CNN's Anjali Rao sits down with Williams as she discusses her current No. 8 world ranking, growing up in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood, her rigorous training schedule and close relationship with fellow pro and sister Serena.

World tennis champion Venus Williams

World tennis champion Venus Williams


AR: Venus, welcome to Talk Asia, it's a pleasure to have to with us today. So on the numbers front, with you being No. 8 these days, do you miss the time when you were world No. 1?

VW: I mean, I love being No. 1 I love being my absolute best, but at this point I feel ok with the No. 8. I feel fantastic that I am on tour and not watching from TV, and I feel like this is just a point to build from, and it's wonderful to see yourself go up, so next week, No. 7, and it's like, yes! And if I see Serena go up, I'll call and say "Hey, hey, you're No. 6", and so we always root each other on.

AR: Tell us about your famous serve. It's still one of the most powerful in the WTA. What is the secret?

VW: I don't know, because I mean, if you look at me, I'm very tall but I'm not huge or muscular. I tend to be slim and you know, I actually can lose weight quicker than I can gain it. So it's just innate and it's funny, I rely on my serve a lot. When my serve isn't there, I'm like, what do I do? I become more average, so my serve really helps me get to that next level.

AR: This summer you were the lowest-ranked player ever to win a Wimbledon single's title -- congratulations for that by the way -- and of course, it was the fourth time that you had won. What was that day like for you?

VW: It really was wonderful, definitely went to the tournament with a mindset that was quite different than the other ones that I'd gone into. But ultimately somehow I got the best out of myself, and I was the last one standing, which is ideal, it's what you want at Wimbledon. So defying odds is definitely a great way to do it. I'm sure someone will break my record one day, but for the moment, it's mine.

AR: I guess though, when we think of you at Wimbledon, what pops to everybody's mind is the time where you're up against your sister, in the final. That was something extraordinary to watch. Take us back to that day.

VW: There were two actually finals we played against each other. I think the toughest part about it was actually having to play Serena, you know, she's playing awesome. I was serving balls at 125, and it comes back at my feet faster, so you thinking to yourself ok, what do I do against that? And at that time she's playing at a level that was above the clouds, so we had good matches and I came close, but more importantly was the fact that we're living in our dreams, 'cause growing up we said "Ok, we're going to play with each other in these finals." And you know as a kid you say those things, but as an adult they happen, and you're like, this is for real, yes!

AR: Is there no rivalry between...

VW: When we step on the court for sure, we're not going to give each other a point, but when we step off the court we'll say, well geez, you should have played better, wow you played well, I couldn't get a point or, you know, it's like anything else. And certainly for my opponents that I play, I don't, you know, anyone who's not my sister, I don't hold it against them or treat them badly if they beat me. So Serena is my flesh and blood, why would I do that to her? And I think most people should see in that way, and that's the way it should be, but a lot of people don't, they think we should fight, and we don't.

AR: How often do you speak to each other?

VW: All the time, I was just talking to her now. We were talking about the match and mostly gossip, just funny things. I was asking her about her Australian Open finals, well can you please tell me what happened when this happened. She told me and we just kind of laugh and joke about everything almost.

AR: People do try and pit sisters or brothers against each other, and they're trying compare you all the time. Is that difficult for you to read about when people write things about the both of you?

VW: No, to be honest I don't read a lot, I'll look at the pictures, we're like oh, I look so bad, or oh, that's pretty good, I'll keep that hair, you know. I don't really get into reading the articles, but as far as everyone else's opinion, I mean, if I would have thought that everyone was right, I probably wouldn't have left Compton, so I don't get too caught up on what the next person thinks.

AR: You do come across as extremely confident. Some even used to go so far as to say that it was arrogance. Do you ever doubt yourself?

VW: No, I think everyone has moments of doubt, but for me, I think I know that I've put the time in on the court or whatever that I'm pursuing. I'm this overachiever type, I'll just work and work and I'll just do it over and over and over again. And I know I spent the time and I have confidence. You know, anytime that I try something new, I just work at it and that builds confidence. And for me, that's how I maintain my confidence.

AR: How do you handle losses?

VW: Oh, I hate losses.

AR: Who doesn't?

VW: Oh my gosh, some of them are hard, like Grand Slam losses are hard. I treat myself after losses though, I usually go to McDonald's and I have a hamburger and you know, something. Because you know, you just need to be nice to yourself sometimes after the loss.

AR: Those good folks at McDonald's watching this are going to be extremely happy. You're still one of the few black faces in an overwhelmingly white game. Is there racism in tennis?

VW: I think I've been fortunate to be at the top of the game and in the media for years, and a lot of times, people want to be your friend when you're on the top. You know, there have been times when I've been injured and I never got a phone call. So that's the way it is. But as far as if there's racism in the world, for sure, all over the world. As far as if I've beat the odds, for sure. Will I continue? Yes. And other than that, that's just how I see it. I don't focus on what I'm up against. I focus on my goals and I try to ignore the rest.


AR: It's pretty safe to say that you slaughtered Maria Sharapova today. I guess it would have been classed as a very good day for you.

VW: It was really a great day and really I love playing with Maria. I've a lot of respect for her game, and it was really a great day for me and a great way to go on to the Australian Open, so, feeling good about it.

AR: It was good to see you getting out there and mixing it up with the crowd, you know getting out of the camera and taking pictures of them while... although they were taking pictures of you. Why do you do stuff like that? 'Cause normally a lot of tennis players are a bit sort of standoff-ish....

VW: Yeah, but I just have fun, and for me, I just am myself, so you know, I don't get too crazy out there. But between Serena and I, we're just ourselves in the court, we like to have fun with it, and I think people also feel a part or something if you really show who you are and not just keep it stoic and in the box.

AR: Going way back to your beginnings, legend goes that your dad Richard decided before you were even born that he wanted to have at least one pro tennis player in the family. And hey presto, you and Serena came on the scene and of course, you've exceeded his wildest expectations, I would imagine. Just tell us what those early days were like for you, learning tennis.

VW: I don't remember ever learning how to play, I just remember always knowing how to play. So it's definitely a huge part of my life -- Venus and tennis. And growing up, my dad, he did what he needed to do. He wasn't always easy. When you're young, you need someone on you every shot, making you do it right, because come Grand Slam final, you're going to need it. So you know, it wasn't easy, it's a little bit easier now in some ways, because as a pro, it's not the same requirements as a junior. But you know, I appreciate everything that he's done, just to have two girls from one family do it to the top level is amazing.

AR: Did you used to, some days, dig in your heels and say, Dad, I'm not picking up this racket and you can't make me?

VW: No, if I didn't want to play, my dad definitely wouldn't have made me play. But I wanted to. It wasn't anything really to think about, whether I wanted to or not, it was just something I did. So after school, we went to play and we expected to play pro one day. And it was a great opportunity. It was just my life, that's what I did.

AR: Give us an idea of what your training schedule was like as a kid.

VW: Yeah, growing up we would go to practice after school. We lived in California, so it can get cool at night, and so we'd just be out there, the lights would come on and we're still hitting. But we'd go to service on whatever nights, two nights a week, so we'd have to leave by 6 something to go to service. But the other nights we'd be out there hitting and hitting. And it gets cold and you're still hitting and hitting. And your ends are freezing and you're still hitting and hitting. But you know, it's worth it, and I'm glad I put that time in.

AR: Of course, because you are, your whole family, are very devout Jehovah's Witnesses. How much does that come into your career and your life?

VW: I definitely think it's made a huge difference in my life. Just so you know, all the girls that I grew up with, they had hardships that they weren't able to get through, but I think having a solid family and also solid religious beliefs has helped me and my sister find that stability. And even if life was going crazy on the courts and even if I had a horrible year and even if I was just mad and couldn't get off the couch because I was playing so bad, I didn't even want to go to practice. You know, I felt like that wasn't the most important thing and my life wasn't going to end.

AR: Because you had such a rigorous training schedule, and this was always your destiny really. Was there time for you to be just a normal kid? Do you ever feel like you missed out?

VW: No, not really. I don't think I missed out because when you're a kid, you're supposed to be preparing for your adulthood. You've got to be ready to take care of yourself, and you've got to know what life is about in a way. But I didn't see Saturday morning cartoons....

AR: What?

VW: ...Or the cartoons after school. Sadly enough, I watch them now. I like... I used to, I've stopped now, I used to eat all the fun breakfast cereal, because we never ate those, my mom was like a real health nut. So when I got my own money, I started buying all the fun cereals. So it's kind of funny, some of the things that you do, and kind of because you didn't do it before, but really, just tiny things like that. I love that I have the chance to play. It's worth it.

AR: You grew up in Compton, which is arguably the most notorious area of California. What are your recollections of living there?

VW: Growing up, I'd just be at home, playing tennis, spending my allowance on an ice-cream truck.

AR: Doesn't sound so bad!

VW: No. You know, playing on the backboard, or actually, the garage door or going to the candy house. My mom didn't want us to go to the candy house, she didn't want us to go to the ice cream truck, she didn't want us to go to the... There was actually a donut truck, if that makes sense. They come and they "but but but... donut truck" and we're running out of the house, and you know our bigger sister pushes us out of the way. Basically a normal childhood... We were pretty much shielded from the bad things that happen. You can choose to be a part of it, or you can choose not to be a part of it and that kind of thing. And I think growing up, I would've definitely been more aware of what was happening around me, I think my older sisters were. But thankfully, I was shielded from all that.

AR: There was one story that I was reading in my research on you that said that there was a time where you and Serena were playing on the courts, the Compton public courts, and you had to duck because bullets were firing around you from...

VW: Well yeah, I mean, if a car would backfire, we'd hit the ground. And I know that sounds funny but it's not... There was one time where a car passed by and a guy raised out of the sun roof and started shooting, but we actually kept practicing.

AR: That's dedication.

VW: Yeah, we kept practicing, and our dad, I don't think he wanted us to tell our mom what happened, so he didn't tell us, don't tell your mom this happened because she hated for us to practice at this park, this was Compton park and my dad would take us there anyway. So when we got home, we were like Ma, you know, this guy raised out of the sunroof and he was shooting! And I guess she got so mad, we didn't practice there for a while. After a while, we started going back to practicing there. So that's the whole story.


AR: So Hank, what's it like for you getting to travel around the world with Venus Williams?

HK: It's definitely fun, it's a bit interesting, it's a bit hectic trying to get our schedules together and to be able to spend time with each other. We try to support each other and our career, it's a lot of fun. You get to see a lot of amazing places and meet some amazing people and get to watch a lot of amazing sport too.

AR: Tell us something about the Venus Williams that you know, as opposed to the Venus Williams the rest of the world thinks they know.

HK: Amazingly enough, she's just the same at home as she is on the court and in interviews and everything else, she's an amazing person. She's one of those people that actually makes everyone around her better and wanna be better, so I really... What you see is what you get with her, she doesn't have a media persona, and then a different life at home, she's the same person all the way through, and she's just a very special person.

AR: You've been something of an activist in recent years. You staged a fervent fight for equal pay for men and women, at both Wimbledon and the French Open. And you managed to achieve it. It's remarkable. In fact, the last Wimbledon 2007, you were the first woman ever to get equal pay, because of your campaigning. That must have felt like the most tremendous achievement.

VW: You know, in a way I feel like I get too much credit for equal prize money, because there are women like Billy Jean King who were fighting forever, and they actually created the tour. And also there was a whole tour behind me and people who were strategically planning how we can get equal prize money. So definitely it wasn't just me, and also in a way, it is just setting in. Like this is exciting, this is monumental, and oh my gosh, I won the first Wimbledon where there was equal prize money. So in a way it's starting to set in, what it actually means, it's about just women around the world, and not just about tennis.

AR: What's it like being part of the WTA on tour?

VW: For me, being part of the WTA tour is a privilege. Every day I wake up, it's a privilege to be able to go outside and do what I love. It's a privilege to be able to make my own hours, even though they're long, but I make them. It's a privilege to be doing something that millions of girls dream of doing but not everyone makes it, so I'm blessed to be doing this, and I go for it, and I'm happy to be here.

AR: You got your first eight-figure endorsement deal when you were 15 years old, that was from Reebok, and you've made many millions more since then. Don't tell me you just let it all sit at a bank, gathering dust?

VW: I try to invest smart, I'm not a baller. I'm not a blinger. I don't do any of those things, except for this ring, but this ring is special, it's from my matches. But I just, you know, big buys make me very nervous. It really makes me so nervous, and I have to think about it forever. I mean in my family, I'm known as someone who can't make a decision, I have to think about it for ages. So you're not going to see me with expensive watches. If I do have one, someone got for me, hopefully soon, ok soon. But you know, I'm just a practical girl, I like to shop just like any other girl, but that's about it.

AR: Do you think that there will ever come a day in your life when tennis doesn't feature?

VW: Oh that comes in every athlete's life, and I'll be crying and I'll be really sad, but I'll have to move on. But it will be ok because I have my family, I'll have my sisters and I'll have a great time just supporting them probably, just traveling all over and staying at their house. That will be fun too. Maybe I'll have more of a normal life, but we'll see.

AR: Do you think that day will come any time soon?

VW: I'm not expecting that day to come any time soon. I have plans to play through the 2012 Olympics, so it's a lot of work to be done, a lot of balls to be hit, hopefully a lot of championships to be won. I'm ready.

AR: Venus, it's been really wonderful having you on the show today. Thank you very much for sparing the time.

VW: Thank you very much.

AR: And that brings us to the end of another edition of Talk Asia. Thanks for being with me, Anjali Rao, and my guest today, the four-time Wimbledon winner, Venus Williams. I'll see you again soon, bye-bye.

All About Venus WilliamsSerena WilliamsWimbledonTennisAustralian Open

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