WTA Finals: 'I am just a wimp off court': Serena Williams

Serena Williams (right), seen here with Caroline Wozniacki, can capture the WTA Finals crown today. She says her stay in Singapore has been an eye-opener and she will be back in December for the International Premier Tennis League.
Serena Williams (right), seen here with Caroline Wozniacki, can capture the WTA Finals crown today. She says her stay in Singapore has been an eye-opener and she will be back in December for the International Premier Tennis League.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Serena says she is completely different from the driven competitor fans see

Away from the tennis court and without a racket in hand for domination, Serena Williams surprises you immediately.

Her easy handshake belies the strength of the powerful woman who often delivers serves above 200kmh.

Wearing a tank top, pants, sneakers and a jacket draped easily over her 1.75m, 68kg frame, Williams, 33, appears a world apart from the supreme athlete she is on court as she sits comfortably in a Marina Bay Sands suite.

There is no competitor to be seen, no muscles being flexed. There is just a woman who says that, when she is not busy screaming and grunting, she is a chronic giggler.

She smiles. She charms. She disarms.

Meeting The Sunday Times on Friday evening, she wields a pink iPhone and clutches a sleek black purse as she talks about the Serena Williams sports fans do not see.

She admits she is an introvert. She talks about having her own charity, how she is going back to college next year, loves fashion, and, wait for it, cries. A lot.

"What I am on the court, I'm completely opposite off it. I cry all the time, I'm really soft, I'm really easy-going to a point it's actually a fault," says the founder of the Serena Williams Foundation, which has opened two schools in Africa to date.

She adds with a laugh: "Either you love me or take me for being what I'd like to call a wimp off the court."

She is known to play pranks, often giving sister Venus, 34, the wrong hotel room number.

This is a side of Serena Williams not many may know, and one she is eager to share with The Sunday Times.

Yes, everyone thinks they know the hard-hitting world No. 1 with her bulging biceps.

The 18-time grand slam singles winner who revolutionised her sport with her powerful strokes, sheer athleticism, hunger to win and consistently powerful serve.

The on-court diva who once told former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, who served before she was ready: "Honestly, do you have a problem?"

The other side of Serena Williams is a woman who is also an avid dancer who aims to be a great modern dancer.

"It helps me to free my mind. Whatever I'm feeling, I put it into an interpretive dance and I can dance that away."

Using something to unwind is understandable, given the gamut of emotions she has had to endure since winning her first Grand Slam singles title in 1999, from the highs of each of her 31 grand slam titles (singles and doubles), to the lows of each injury and personal tragedy.

She has also had a relatively quiet year in the grand slams, winning "only" one title, the US Open.

But she will still finish the year as world No. 1. And, with the strong support of her family, spurred by motivational quotes written on Post-it notes and plastered on her racket bag, the position is hers to lose.

Tennis legend Chris Evert certainly thinks so. She said: "I think (Serena) can have a better year in the grand slams. She can still be No. 1. By not doing well in the grand slams this year, I think that motivates her to do better next year... and maybe break some more records."

At the ongoing BNP Paribas WTA Finals, Williams shook off a knee injury and will defend her title in today's final against Simona Halep.

And Singaporeans will see more of Williams when she returns in December for the International Premier Tennis League, a prospect she is looking forward to.

"What I love about Singapore is the culture, and how it's so diverse," says the player who hopes to hold a fashion show here for her two labels, Aneres and Serena Signature Statement.

"Everything so blended and so mixed. It's shocking, I feel like I should've been here before."

But, first, a much-needed vacation awaits her. And ballet classes.

She says: "I started ballet this year because I need to be smooth and have more fluidity for my dancing."

Not to mention helping her to "dance" around her rivals on court for arguably a long time more.

siangyee@sph.com.sg