LONDON • Serena Williams issued a stinging rebuke to tennis great Billie Jean King after her comments that her fellow American should focus on tennis, and stop behaving like a celebrity and championing social justice issues.
The commentator and 12-time Grand Slam winner - who was no stranger to fighting for equality for women players when she was starting out - may feel justified after the former world No. 1 was played off the court in Saturday's Wimbledon women's final on Saturday.
She was beaten 6-2, 6-2 in less than an hour by Romania's Simona Halep, who had lost on nine of their 10 previous match-ups, for the American's worst loss at a major.
King, 75, had earlier told the BBC that it was "insanity" for Williams to be running a business, looking after a child, and battling for equality for women and ethnic minorities, yet remain in tip-top condition to play tennis at the highest level.
Williams, though, hit back on Saturday after her defeat, saying: "The day I stop fighting for equality and for people that look like you and me will be the day I'm in my grave."
However, King later backtracked on her claims that Williams had spread herself too thin, tweeting: "I would never ask anyone to stop fighting for equality.
KING: STOP THIS INSANITY!
Quite frankly, if I were Serena, I would give up being a celebrity for a year and a half. If she wants to win titles, if she wants to beat records, that's the question. I don't know what she wants. No more Met Galas. Just stop all this insanity because she is trying to be everything.
BILLIE JEAN KING, tennis legend, on Serena Williams' exertions.
WILLIAMS: OVER MY DEAD BODY!
The day I stop fighting for equality and for people that look like you and me will be the day I'm in my grave.
SERENA WILLIAMS, who was beaten 6-2, 6-2 by Romania's Simona Halep in Saturday's Wimbledon women's final.
"In everything she does, Serena shines a light on what all of us must fight for in order to achieve equality for all."
On court, Saturday's blowout was the third time in the past year that Williams has failed to take the chance to equal Australian Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles - her stated goal on returning to the WTA Tour last March after a year-long maternity break.
She lost to Angelique Kerber in last year's Wimbledon final before suffering a meltdown in her defeat by Naomi Osaka in the US Open final, which prompted therapy.
Nevertheless, Williams refused to accept that the record may elude her. "I don't know," she said. "I mean, I don't really think about it. I just go out there and play, see what happens.
"That's kind of how I've been in my whole career. You know, I never thought about time in general. I feel like I'm just really on this journey of just doing the best that I can, playing the best that I can when I can."
Her leaden-footed and lethargic performance - she really got fired up only in the first game of the second set yelling at the ground when she won a point - provoked one spectator to cry out, "Wake up, Serena".
"Actually, I did hear it," Williams, who has yet to win a title since the 2017 Australian Open, said.
"I definitely wasn't asleep. But I did hear it. Actually, sometimes the comments help me, whether they're good or bad. It didn't bother me at all."
The 37-year-old, who had her close friend and the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, cheering her on from the Royal Box, added she did not know if she was getting more tense about winning another major as she gets closer to her 40s.
"Now, you know, in my 20s - I'm always expected to win, but it's a different circumstance for me," she said. "Seems like every Grand Slam final I'm in recently has been an unbelievable effort to get there."
However, if anyone thought that such a humbling loss might prompt thoughts of retirement, it has not dulled her "incredibly competitive" spirit.
"Or else, I wouldn't really be out here. For the most part, I feel like I'm on the right track," she said.
"I'm just going in the right direction in terms of getting back to where I need to be."