“Serena Williams will see you now.” Imagine a scenario, maybe a few years in the future, where you go in for a medical consultation and find the 20-time grand slam champion sitting on the far side of the desk.
An unlikely prospect? Well, yes. But not completely out of the question, because Williams has been studying for a pre-med degree at the University of Massachusetts. Her latest academic exploration, which comes after previous courses in fashion and business management, was prompted by the auto-immune condition – Sjogren’s syndrome – that has afflicted her sister and closest companion Venus.
“After what my sister went through, I wanted to really focus on holistic medicine,” Williams told Telegraph Sport last week. “And then I was really interested in learning things from the earth that can heal us. Long‑term healing. There’s so much cancer that is going around now. So it’s really an interest in that. And also when I go to Africa, with the work I do with my schools there, it’s very useful to have something like that so that I know more about the health issues.”
Williams is studying online for the moment, although she points out that the university is on its summer break at the moment, so she is taking the opportunity to catch up on her Netflix viewing instead. If she wants to go deeper into the subject, she says, she will have to start going into the biology labs. “I am leaving all the classes at the school for when I decide to retire,” she says, giving the final word an archly dramatic flourish.
Stick with that same course in the UK, I point out, and eventually you find yourself in the dissection room with the cadavers. “Yeah, I think for us too,” she replies. “We’ll see. I might be changing my major again for the fourth time!” She laughs, the big booming laugh you sometimes hear in her press conferences.
Williams is hoiping to bounce back following last year’s disappointment at SW19
Williams’s on-court persona might give off more “Don’t mess with me” vibes than a king cobra, but when you meet her in a social setting – in this case, the Women’s Tennis Association’s pre‑Wimbledon gathering at the Kensington Roof Gardens – she comes across as the soul of the party.
It is easy to forget, amid Williams’s bewilderingly wide portfolio of interests, that this is the world’s best tennis player – and almost certainly the greatest of all time. Three months short of her 34th birthday, she comes into London as the owner of the three other grand-slam titles. Victory here would match the so-called “Serena slam” that she completed in Australia in 2003. It would also leave her needing only the US Open – where she has not been beaten since Sam Stosur upset her in the 2011 final – to complete the holy grail of tennis: a clean sweep of all four majors in a single season.
The pressure is immense, just as it must have been on Novak Djokovic when he went into last month’s French Open looking to complete his own career set. Perhaps this is why the two world No. 1s are so keen to distract themselves with extra-curricular activities: for him meditation and research into Serbian history, for her not only the medical degree but the design of a new fashion range that will be displayed in a catwalk show in New York later this summer.
Credit: The Telegraph