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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Venus Williams

Venus Williams: "I take pride in what I do. I enjoy the process of actually being good at this and giving my best to get better every single day."

Photo credit: corleve/Mark Peterson

Tennis is a game of motion. Venus Williams competes with the conviction of a woman who knows she's going places.

While many of her rivals have moved on, the 34-year-old Williams continues moving forward.

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Playing assertive tennis, Williams is off to a 15-3 start, including beating former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki to capture her 46th career title in her Auckland season-opener.

The 17th-ranked American already has posted three Top 10 wins through the first two months of the 2015 season. In contrast, it took her until July to score her first Top 10 win of 2014. 

Williams has adopted a vegan diet and adheres to a disciplined schedule in an effort to cope with the challenges of her ongoing battle with Sjogren’s Syndrome, the energy-sapping disease that sometimes leaves her feeling like a Formula 1 car running on a half tank of gas.

Still, the former world No. 1 continues to power through a very busy life. She continues to design her on-court apparel for her brand, EleVen, making a mark with the 2015 Ola collection.

Whether she's playing points or plotting designs, Williams is often most creative and comfortable on the move.

"Movement is a huge part of my game. I think movement is a huge weapon for me," Williams said. "And I'm always trying to use that to my advantage whether it's side-to-side movement or moving forward."

Don't call Venus' resurgence a comeback. She's never left. 

A decade ago, the 14th-seeded Venus saved championship point out dueling top-seeded Lindsay Davenport 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7 in a record-setting two hour, 45-minute Wimbledon final. These days, Williams stills runs into Davenport, who is coaching Madison Keys, at tournaments.

While several of her top rivals have retired, Williams has reloaded. Venus has won six of her last seven matches against Top 10 opponents and with only about 300 ranking points to defend between Miami and the end of the French Open, she can continue her rise in the rankings if she stays healthy.

We caught up with Venus in Houston where she discussed her fashion sense, playing style, inspiration, longevity, her thoughts on sister Serena's return to Indian Wells, and how she hits the high notes singing "Tom Sawyer" in karaoke.

Tennis Now: Venus, what was your goal with this 2015 EleVen collection?

Venus Williams: My goal with each collection is to make it the best one. I feel like I've achieved that so far with this one. My goal was to make the collections related to each other and also to make everyone who wears them feel like an EleVen.

TN: Madison Keys has said when she was a kid she was inspired to play tennis watching you and seeing you playing in a cool dress. Who inspired your tennis fashion sense?

Venus: I think back in the day Mary Pierce really started to change tennis fashion. She was the first one to wear the tennis dress after so many years. I think that was definitely inspirational for tennis and for players wanting to wear tennis dresses again.

Venus Williams
Photo credit: EleVen Miami Open Dress

TN: Is there any scoop you can share about your upcoming dresses? Anything you'll be wearing in Miami or in upcoming Grand Slams that we can be looking out for?

Venus: You can expect a lot of color. In Miami (see dress above), I'm going to be wearing a Ndebele print, coral and fuchsia and purples and teals and something very unexpected and exciting. It definitely feels like you're bringing in the spring and the warm weather.

TN: What are your fashion essentials you carry in your bag on court? Any guilty fashion pleasures in your closet that would surprise people?

Venus: On the court, I always have my hair clips and always my eyeliner. In my closet, I think my guilty pleasure are just endless bags I've accumulated over the years. I never carry the same bag. I always change it to my outfits. I just can't commit. I'm just one of those girls who can't commit (laughs).

TN: It's funny when we look around and see players like Hingis and Vaidisova coming back and Bartoli maybe considering a comeback. You've never left and you're still winning. What is the key to your longevity and strong start this season?

Venus: I think this season I've felt some of the healthiest I've felt in a very long time. So that gives me the opportunity to be able to set myself up on court and to be able to last and to be able to compete. I'm looking forward to just doing better the rest of the year. It's been an awesome start. I'm so happy about it.

TN: We're approaching the anniversary of that classic 2001 Miami final when you saved eight championship points to beat Jennifer Capriati. You did it again when you beat Lindsay Davenport in the classic 2005 Wimbledon final. What are you thinking and feeling in those critical moments during comebacks?

Venus: I think at the time you just stay in the moment. That's what helps. And when you walk off the court a lot of the times you don't even realize you were in that situation because you were so determined. It's like you're in the zone. I think all the experience can help when you know you've done it before. But at the time, you just try to stay in the moment, focus on now and make it work.

TN: You've always been an attacking, aggressive player. People comment on how fluid your forward movement is this season. Do you feel you're playing more aggressively or moving forward better now?

Venus: I think I've always been aggressive. In my mind, I want to be aggressive on every point. But in tennis you have to be patient and you can't be aggressive on everything, in every instance. So you have to try to temper it with patience and of course movement is a huge part of my game. I think movement is a huge weapon for me. And I'm always trying to use that to my advantage whether it's side-to-side movement or moving forward.

TN: Last time I interviewed Martina Hingis, I asked her about top rivals. She said you were one of her toughest and most favorite rivals because you brought out the best in her, forced her to change her tactics and vary her shots. Excluding Serena, who is your favorite rival?

Venus: You know what? I think that I played Martina and Serena and Lindsay the most so those were my greatest rivals. I think Martina has had more time to contemplate it because she stepped away from the game. Because I'm so into the game I'm just more focused on the present, I believe.

Venus Williams, Serena Williams

TN: Serena made the big announcement she's going back to Indian Wells. How do you feel about Serena going back? Will you go back to Indian Wells?

Venus: You know I've always supported her decisions. I feel like she's made the right decision for her. And I completely support her. It [Indian Wells] is not on my schedule for this year. I'm going to play Miami as my next event.

TN: You've played some of your best tennis at the Olympics. How important are the 2016 Rio Games to you? What are your goals from this point out?

Venus: From this point out, my goals are: It's all about titles. When I go to a tournament, I go to do my best and hopefully take a title home. Definitely the Olympics are huge on my radar, without a doubt.

TN: I was reading on your web site that you've gone vegan. How has your diet and fitness helped you, particularly in the challenge of dealing with your illness?

Venus: For my illness, I need every upper hand I can get to try to feel my best. Whether it's diet or training or anything, I try my best to be consistent. I try to stick to my diet, but honestly sometimes I slip up. But that's life (laughs).

TN: Other players have compared your serve to Pete Sampras and Boris Becker. You point your toe upward at the start like Sampras did, you take the full loop backswing like they did. Who were your serving role models? What is the key to an explosive Venus Williams serve?

Venus: Actually, Sampras and Becker were my serving role models growing up. I watched them both growing up. The key to a good serve? Ultimately, I think it's timing. When you're relaxed your timing is on. And when you're not relaxed you can go too fast in the serve motion. So the key is being relaxed. Obviously, you need to have those techniques down and having your timing on point is very important. Those are keys.

TN: Reading your web site I was surprised to see one of your favorite karaoke songs was "Tom Sawyer" by Rush. That song probably came out before you were even born and is really demanding to sing. How did you get turned on to Tom Sawyer?

Venus: Yeah, Tom Sawyer was my favorite karaoke song from a couple of years ago. You know, that song works for me. It works for my pitch. When you get to karaoke, you've got to figure out what your pitch is and then go for it. I can't go too low. I'm a little bit better higher. Growing up, my parents had us listening to everything from all kind of genres. So I'm kind of open-minded toward all types of music.

TN: Do you listen to any music before you go on court? To pump yourself up or calm yourself down?

Venus: I don't. Because if I don't win with that song, then I never want to listen to it again, you know? (laughs)

TN: Your career is completely unique. At the same time, you're following a tradition of great American champions like Pancho Gonzalez, Billie Jean, Martina, Connors, Agassi. Like you, they started young and like you they all played great tennis and won titles into their 30s. What is the secret to your resilience and longevity?

Venus: I think it's all about timing. Planning your season correctly, not just for one year, but over the course of a few years with longevity in mind. The love of the game keeps you going.

TN: You're a Miami Dolphins co-owner. What is your forecast for the Dolphins next season?

Venus: You know, we're a team on the make. We're maturing. We're getting the right players in place. If we can improve our defense and give our quarterback a little bit more time that will mean the world for us. We've got work to do just like every other team.

TN: When you're designing, how do you actually create the designs? Do you use a laptop? An iPad? A piece of paper?

Venus: I sketch things by hand initially. I always sketch everything by hand so that's really how it goes. I haven't really done any fashion illustrations since season one of EleVen.

TN: What's next for you, Venus?

Venus: Beyond Miami, I'm looking forward to Fed Cup. Then I'm looking forward to playing the clay-court season — Madrid, Rome and the French Open.

TN: You've beaten Wozniacki and Radwanska, you nearly knocked Azarenka out last week. You're playing dynamic tennis against top players. Your sense of self-belief seems strong. Do you feel at age 34 your best tennis is still ahead?

Venus: Yeah. I mean that's what I have to think. That's what every player has to think every time you walk on the court. You have to think: I can play better than I did before. That's what I expect from myself each time. Because when I walk out on the court, my opponents don't play me as if I was ranked number 10 or number 100. They play me as if I'm ranked number 1. They bring their best against me. There are no easy matches for me. Ever. So I have to be prepared for that.

TN: Years ago, I remember interviewing you in New York and asking how you had changed from your first US Open appearance to your last. You said "I was a hitter then, I'm a player now." How did you make that evolution? What did you learn?

Venus: I think you just learn more. You learn more from everything you experience. You learn from your wins, but you learn from your losses. It goes both ways. You learn from success. You learn from failure — if you allow yourself to. I think that's what I've tried to do over the years: I've tried to learn from it all. Sometimes the losses that hurt the most, those are the losses I learn the most from. I always get better after those losses.

Venus Williams
Photo credit: Mark James

TN: When you hear young players like Keys say the Williams sisters inspired them to play tennis, how do you feel? Do you take any pride or satisfaction knowing you've influenced someone's life? Or is it more like really nice to hear but ultimately it's another talented young player out there trying to beat you?

Venus: You know, there is a part of you that's out there and you want to win every single match. That's what you think about when you're out there. That's what you focus on. But of course if the next generation is better and stronger and inspired, then that's icing on the cake.

TN: Looking at Keys, Stephens, Townsend, Vandeweghe — this young group of American women — do you feel they all have Top 10 potential?

Venus: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, they have the talent and potential. It's a matter of time and maturity.

TN: Playing at an elite level all these years, what keeps you going? What gives you the greatest joy and satisfaction now?

Venus: I take pride in what I do. I enjoy the process of actually being good at this and giving my best to get better every single day.


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