Serena Williams is speaking out about her public disagreement U.S. Open match.
The 37-year-old tennis pro covers GO’s Men of the Year problem as the champion and woman of the year. In the magazine, Williams talk over what she recalls from the September match where she called the umpire “a thief,” crashed her racket and got a coaching code violation, before eventually losing the game to then 20-year-old Naomi Osaka.
“I don’t really remember how it went, to be honest,” she says of the match back then, for which she was later levied $17,000. “I’ve been purposely not thinking about it. I don’t watch TV at all. I try to keep myself in a bubble as much as I can. I just don’t want to be involved in other people’s opinions. Let them live how they want to feel.”
That coaching code violation — coaches are not allowed to coach during matches — was really what set Serena Williams off, as umpires typically issue a warning straight to the player before counting it as a penalty.
“That was where a lot of people don’t understand. That’s where I was coming from. Like, usually you talk to me, tell me that something’s happening, and I’ll tell my box, like, whatever you’re doing, don’t. First, I can’t see you — I’m clear on the other side of the court. Second, don’t do it. We’re here to win or to lose with dignity, and that’s how I’ve always done my career.”
That call by the umpire is just one of the reasons that Serena Williams still stands by her and husband Alexis Ohanian’s — former declaration that the penalties against her, as well as the public outcry afterwards, were naturally bigot.
“I’m a black woman…my limit [of what’s acceptable in society] is way lower,” she utters. “And that’s where we stand right now in this world. And it’s a fact. It’s literally a fact… You don’t accept it. You talk about it like I have. You make it better for the next generation.”
Her response to the penalties, she says, wasn’t just about that match and that moment; it was about a career of similar instances.
“I’ve had a lot of things happen to me at the U.S. Open,” she. “I think about three or four different things. Especially in the later rounds. I think a person can be a little bit more sensitive to anything in that moment. You know, it becomes a trigger moment. When you go through a really extreme ordeal not once, not twice, not three times, it becomes a trigger moment.”
Following the match, Williams stood up for Osaka when the gathering began booing the young winner.
“I don’t want to do questions. I just want to tell you guys, she played well. And this is her first Grand Slam… I know you guys were here rooting, and I was rooting too. But let’s make this the best moment we can, and we’ll get through it,” Williams said at the time. “Let’s give everyone the credit where credit’s due. Let’s not boo anymore. We’re gonna get through this, and let’s be positive. So congratulations, Naomi! No more booing.”
Later, during an appearance on Today, Osaka said she “felt like [she] had to apologise” after her win.
“I just felt like everyone was sort of unhappy up there and I know it wasn’t the ending people wanted it to be, and I know that in my dreams I won, like, a very tough competitive match but I don’t know,” Osaka said. “I just felt very emotional and I felt like I had to apologise.”
Also in her GQ cover story, Williams spoke about being a mum to her 1-year-old daughter, Olympia.
“We do everything together,” she says. “I love everything about being a mum. The only thing I don’t love about being a mum is come 7:30, Olympia’s in bed and I get sad. I’m like, ‘Should I go to bed?’ Because then if I wake up, I get to see her again.”
However Williams obviously loves mum life, back in March she told ET that she wants to wait to expand her family while she focuses on her career.
“I definitely want two [kids], God willing, but right now, I want tennis as well,” she said at the time. “So, I’m going to wait and see what happens.”
“It’s definitely not easy,” she concluded. “I have this undying drive to be the best that I can be. Whether it’s [being] a mum or playing tennis or doing my designing. I just want to do the best that I can.”