Serena Williams Talks Zika, the Olympics, and Her New Documentary
"My main goal is to go out there and have fun," the athlete said of the 2016 Rio games at the premiere of "Serena," her new documentary.
If there’s one color that Serena Williams, the no. 1 women’s singles tennis player (and as of this month the highest-paid female athlete in the world), is used to having around, it’s gold – one she appropriately decked herself out in at the world premiere of her new documentary, “Serena,” on Monday night. From a glittery gown slit up to her thigh to a gold-plated necklace stamped appropriately with the word “KRYPTONIAN,” her look was the perfect complement to the four Olympic gold medals she has tucked away in Ziplocs at home. Though she’s waiting to arrange them until she retires, she acknowledges that her collection makes her somewhat lax about this year’s games.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of me – I’m like, ‘okay, I’m not too concerned about going out there and winning a medal,’” she said. “For the first time, my main goal is to go out there and have fun.”
It’s an attitude in stark contrast with the one portrayed in the film, which follows Williams over the course of 2015, the year the world expected her to do nearly the impossible and win four Grand Slam competitions in a row. “Guys, I just won three, that’s pretty awesome for someone my age,” she says at one point in the movie before going off to watch The Little Mermaid. (At 34, or, in her words, “thirty fun,” she’s already doubled the usual length of a tennis career, which for her started professionally at 15.) Still, after powering through the French and Australian Opens and Wimbledon, and even a nail-biting match against her her older sister Venus, who she considers her toughest opponent, Williams couldn’t help taking her eventual loss at the U.S. Open hard – she hid from everyone, including her coach, for over two days, and eventually withdrew from the rest of the season.
Now, though, that all seems in the past: Even after being “pissed” at her performance earlier this month at the French Open, Williams said she’s not just ready, but “more than ready” to go forward: She even told her seatmate at last night’s premiere, Anna Wintour, that she wished Wimbledon, which is in two weeks, were instead the very next day. No doubt Patrick Mouratoglou, her coach and complete sidekick, wishes the same: “That’s the main focus now,” he said, admitting that because of the British competition, their Olympics training hasn’t even started.
“It’s different because there’s one more big event in the summer – usually it’s [the French Open], Wimbledon, and U.S. Open, and in this case, there is the Olympics in the middle,” he explained. “So she has to rest more, because it’s going to be very tiring. Those big events take a lot out of the player, so we have to be smarter.”
Luckily, resting is something Williams seems equally expert at: Her shining moments in the documentary, which premieres on Epix on June 22, aren’t just on the court, but when she says she needs to “decompress” – which usually means eating Chick-fil-A, cuddling with her dogs and stuffed monkey, Max, and having a karaoke “girls’ night” with her friends and Drake. While director Ryan White said there were plenty of moments that surprised him in the year he followed Williams almost constantly, that definitely wasn’t one of them: “Serena never stops dancing,” he said, suddenly serious. “If Serena had her way, this movie would be about dancing, and there would be no tennis in it.”
Post-screening, Williams admitted to Gayle King that it’s ‘80s music that gets her going when heading out to the courts, but as White – and her appearance in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” – can attest, her taste is also much more varied: “She likes it all. I’m a Georgia boy, and she even likes country music. She sang some country songs with me that I didn’t even know about,” he said.
Still, it won’t be all fun and games when it comes to Brazil: Williams insists she’s still “the ultimate perfectionist,” and this time around, there’s an opponent she can’t exactly prepare for – the Zika virus, which she says she’s “obviously” worried about. “I think it’s important, but I’m going to do a lot of stuff to protect myself – they give a lot of U.S. athletes a protocol that we’re really going to stick to,” she said.
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