Venus Williams

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Cover feature on the tennis star; touches on family loss, her tennis career, and her move into the fashion industry.

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Venus Williams

  1. 1. CORBIS28 Open Skies
  2. 2. PROFILE A Model PlayerShe has been the elder half of one of the greatest stories in tennis history. Along with her sisterSerena, she has been a dominant force in the sport for 15 years. Nick Rice talks to VenusWilliams about life on and off the court. Venus Williams exhibits the kind of self-assurance Funktionslust – meaning to take pleasure in what one that comes with true confidence in one’s own does best, like a cat climbing a tree or a bird gliding. abilities. It’s certainly a self-belief that has borne For Williams it may be an exquisite two-handed results. She has won Wimbledon five times, taken cross-court backhand or a blistering forehand topspin three Olympic Gold medals and amassed a fortune smashed down the line. Without doubt that sense in prize money and endorsements. of fulfilment and sheer pleasure must surface when Since joining the Women’s Tennis Association tour she unleashes the most devastating women’s serve in in 1994 Williams has won 41 WTA titles, 18 Grand the sport. Chalk dust puffing up as a blur of yellow Slam titles and in 2000 she managed a remarkable passes at 129 miles per hour. feat by winning Wimbledon, the US Open and For someone who admits to having 15-minute two Olympic medals. She has been a formidable naps prior to facing her competitors, it’s obvious opponent for all that have faced her. Her 6’1 frame she does not suffer from the high tension and frayed and natural athleticism give Williams an overbearing nerves that competing at the world’s highest level court presence and her explosive power and frenetic can bring. She is as relaxed off the court as she isOpposite page: ground coverage has often dispatched the game’s composed on it.Poolside or best contenders, her younger sister included. Williams may have relinquished the mantle ofcourtside, VenusWilliams likes to There’s a German word that comes to mind being the world number one to her 15-monthlook her best. when considering how she plays the game today. younger sister, but she doesn’t seem overly January 2010 29
  3. 3. PROFILE concerned. She is smiley, somehow feline, and comes across as very comfortable with who she is. Now that Williams is older her horizons have naturally broadened and she has invested time in her education. She studied fashion design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and developed her own fashion brand, EleVen, named after the home address in California where she grew up. The EleVen range, which Williams has astutely modelled herself in competition, launched in 2007 and comprises a range of active wear and footwear which all retails below $20. The business has clearly been another aspiration fulfilled for Williams. “I love fashion and the idea that I am using my design education to actually create clothing and footwear that I will wear on and off the tennis court is a dream come true GETTY IMAGES for me.” Her diversification into other areas doesn’t end there. Williams is also very involved with the interior design firm she launched in 2002 and as CEO she puts in six to eight-hour days when she’s not on the court, meeting with clients and observing installation. “Interior design has always been one And doing what God requires of me – that’s always a Above: Williams is the founder of of my interests. My company, V Starr Interiors, is learning experience day in and day out.” V Starr Interiors. now transitioning into the commercial aspect of the At just 29 years old Williams has achieved a great Above left: business. It has been so fun to start a business from deal in her life and she is quick to acknowledge Williams announces the launch of her the ground up.” those who helped her get where she is. As her role new Atheletic Shoe It is clear that although tennis has been an model Althea Gibson – the first African American and Apparel Line enduring passion, and one that she still thrives on, woman to triumph at Wimbledon in both ‘57 and called EleVen. Williams has more than just tennis in her life. Her ‘58 – once said, “No matter what accomplishments two commercial ventures are an outlet for her flair you make, somebody helps you.” in design and she also greatly values the religious Help for Williams came from right at home and aspect of her life, saying, “I would say definitely the was planned before she was even born. Her father, most important thing in my life is growing spiritually. Richard Williams, was set on having at least one30 Open Skies
  4. 4. PROFILEGETTY IMAGESAbove: Venus (R) and her sister Isha pose at a press conferenceannouncing the launch of Venu’s interior design business V StarrInteriors at the Pacific Design Center.of his five daughters with his wife Oracene become atennis superstar. He took Venus and Serena to play when they werearound 4 years old and their training began on publiccourts in the hostile LA borough of Compton. When Althea Gibson made history with her firstchampionship victory at Wimbledon in 1957, RichardWilliams was just 15 years old. Destiny had it that 43years later it would be his daughter Venus raising thetrophy as the second African American woman to winthe title. At the time of her first Wimbledon victory in 2000Venus released a statement honouring Gibson: “I amgrateful to Althea Gibson for having the strength andcourage to break through the racial barriers in tennis.Althea Gibson was the first African-American womanto rank number one and win Wimbledon, and I amhonoured to have followed in such great footsteps.” Althea Gibson also said, “Being champion is all welland good, but you can’t eat a crown.” In Gibson’s era there was no prize money and nolucrative endorsement deals, only exhibition tours.Williams has had fortune quite literally on her side inthis respect and she has commanded huge sponsorshipdeals and earned a career prize money total of over January 2010 31
  5. 5. PROFILE CORBIS $25 million. She was just 15 years old when she got her first eight-figure endorsement deal with Reebok and she landed the biggest IS CORB endorsement deal ever nnis ced te for a female athlete five introdu G ibson rs. years later in 2000 when Althea ungste legend inner-city yo Tennis ds of Reebok again signed san to thou Williams to a 5 year contract for a reported Above: Following $40 million. success on the court, Williams Although times have is also an changed and present generations have benefited accomplished businesswoman. from the noble struggles of those that came Above left: Venus before, there are still the pressing issues of the day with younger sister and Williams has, on more than one occasion, Serena. Despite taken a stand and spoken out against the tennis fierce clashes on the court the two establishment in defence of her, and her peers’, sisters are the best beliefs. She was highly effective in lending of friends. her voice to the ongoing battle led by Billie Jean Left: Williams, sporting her own King for gender equality in the sport through brand of sportwear, equal prize money. celebrates winning Williams took a stance in 2006 by writing a short another match. CORBIS essay to The Times newspaper in London. It was published on the day before that year’s Wimbledon and read: “The time has come for Wimbledon meritocracy and diminishes the years of hard work to do the right thing by paying men and women that women on the tour have put into becoming the same sums of prize money. How can it be professional tennis players. The message I like to that Wimbledon finds itself on the wrong side convey to women and girls across the globe is that of history? How can the words Wimbledon and there is no glass ceiling. My fear is that Wimbledon inequality be allowed to coexist? I feel so strongly is loudly and clearly sending the opposite message. that Wimbledon’s stance devalues the principle of I intend to keep doing everything I can until Billie32 Open Skies
  6. 6. PROFILEJean’s original dream of equality is made real. It’s ashame that the name of the greatest tournament intennis, an event that should be a positive symbol forthe sport, is tarnished.” Soon after the article appeared the British PrimeMinister at the time, Tony Blair, endorsed her positionon equal pay. Williams became a spokesperson for theWomen’s Tennis Association and UNESCO asked her tohead a campaign promoting gender equality in sports. Approximately seven months later Wimbledonbowed to the pressure and announced it would awardequal prize money to all competitors and the organisersof The French Open quickly followed suit. Speaking to Open Skies about how this different kindof victory made her feel, Williams said, “I knew I wasfighting for something that I truly believed was the rightthing. These kinds of strides that I helped make will lastforever, beyond me being on the court. Anything I cando to help the sport I play I will try to do so.” So what does the future hold for Williams? Despitethe growing diversity in her interests, tennis remainsher main focus and she may yet take the number onespot back from her little sister. Much has been made of the battles between the twoas they have met in 21 professional matches since 1998.The score presently stands at 11-10 to Serena. Thematches make for consistently thrilling viewing and thetwo give their utmost, but there is a notable sense of itbeing a reluctant rivalry, even though the competitiveedge is still there. “Serena is the toughest competitorthere is, so it pushes me to play my best tennis. I enjoyour battles, but when I beat her I am always sad for herat the same time as being happy I won.” Lastly I ask Williams about her thoughts on thefamous quote by the great Jimmy Connors, “I love towin, but I hate losing more”. “I think in a way it’s true, but some wins are sogreat that I wouldn’t trade them for anything, likemy Olympic gold medals, especially the two I wonin doubles with Serena.” It is distinctly apparent that their compelling clashesand the struggle for dominance remains on the courtwhen the match is over, “Serena and I are extremelysupportive of each other and always want each otherto win. Of course we always want to play each other inthe final so a Williams can always win! But we leave itall out on the court and as soon as the match is over wewalk off the court and are best friends again.” Next month Venus returns to Dubai and willcompete to retain her championship at The BarclaysDubai Tennis Championships Women’s Open, 14th –20th February 2010. ❖ January 2010 33

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