While we can be sure that Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic lead hectic lives, they never appear to have as much going on as Serena Williams.
Away from her pursuit of a 24th singles major, the American has a fashion label, directorship of a major company, a stake in the Miami Dolphins, charity work, endless endorsements and a host of media endeavours.
On that last front, Will Smith has just been linked with a biopic of Serena’s father, Richard. Have no doubt that the 37-year-old will get her own Hollywood treatment at some point.
With so much to keep her occupied, not least the relentless pressure of trying to equal Margaret Court’s all-time major record, you wonder how Williams can focus on points, games and matches.
At times – i.e. the 2018 US Open final – intensity does get the better of her.
Williams’s latest challenge takes place this week at one of the tour’s largest tournaments, Indian Wells. On Friday, she is set to face fellow grand slam winner and former world no.1 Victoria Azarenka.
The pair have clashed 21 times in the past with the Belarusian victorious on only four occasions. However, the last win was significant. In the 2016 final of this event, Azarenka defeated Williams 6-4 6-4 and they haven’t met since.
In the meantime, the American added a couple of majors, gave birth, returned and got within sight of a few more grand slams. Meanwhile, Azarenka hasn’t hit the level of two years ago as custody issues derailed her playing time.
There’s a lot of pressure on both players to perform this Friday, but as it’s Indian Wells, the burden weighs heavier on Williams. After early joy, this desert paradise has been a source of trauma for the American.
It’s exactly two decades since Williams, then just 17, dethroned Steffi Graf in the Indian Wells final. The German retired later that season and was soon replaced at the top of the sport by Venus, and then Serena.
As of March 2019, Serena can count 72 singles titles in her trophy cabinet, but only two of them bear the name of the Californian tournament. Unseemly events during the 2001 Open are the chief reasons.
After dismantling Lindsay Davenport in the last eight, Serena ensured an all-Williams semi at the Tennis Garden. It didn’t happen though, as Venus withdrew just four minutes before the start citing tendonitis.
At the time, unfounded theories about Richard deciding the outcome swirled about. In press conferences, both sisters denied this, but the steam wasn’t released from the situation.
On finals day, as Serena and Kim Clijsters warmed up, Venus and Richard Williams took their seats in the stadium. The crowd, still miffed by Venus’ withdrawal, vented loudly at the Williams family.
Fans heckled the players’ box and Serena throughout the contest. An already poor spectacle worsened in the days after as Richard Williams said that he suffered racist abuse from onlookers.
A fissure opened between family and tournament and the sisters decided to boycott the event. One of the sport’s most prestigious tournaments did not have a Williams in its playing field for more than a decade.
Then, in February 2015, Serena used an op-ed in Time magazine to end the stand-off.
“Indian Wells was a pivotal moment of my story, and I am a part of the tournament’s story as well. Together we have a chance to write a different ending,”
That March, Williams arrived on Indian Wells’ Stadium 1 for her opening singles match. The reception was quite different from her last appearance 14 years before.
2019 will be Williams’s fourth trip to the event since her return. That 2016 final is her best showing though she’d surely like to do one better.
As a bonus, Serena will also partner Venus in this year’s doubles.
It seems that Serena has ensured a ‘different ending’ for herself and this event. One wonders how long the finale will be and if the 23-time major winner will have the very last word.