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Serena Williams Puts Emotion Into Game, Memoir

Serena (right) and Venus Williams wait to receive their  trophy after winning the U.S. Open women's doubles final in New York last week.
Serena (right) and Venus Williams wait to receive their trophy after winning the U.S. Open women's doubles final in New York last week.

At 27, Serena Williams has won every major title in tennis. Now she's written a book about her life in the sport: On the Line.

She has enjoyed a world No. 1 ranking at three different points in her career — but when Serena was little, she definitely came in second to her big sister Venus, who was seen as a tennis prodigy.

"Being kind of the little sister and the one that wasn't as strong and wasn't as good yet gave me encouragement, and gave me the fight that I have in my game," Williams tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer.

In her book, Williams describes the complicated relationship the two would someday share, both as sisters and as on-court foes. From an early age, Williams not only had to play against her big sister but also had to believe she could beat her.

Of playing Venus, Serena says, "Right now we're competitors, and then the moment we shake hands and we're done with this match, we're sisters. But I'm always happy for Venus, and she's even more happy for me."

The sisters from Compton, Calif., began entering tournaments together at a young age. In 2001, they played at Indian Wells, Calif., site of an incident that led the Williamses to vow not to play there again.

Serena and Venus were slated to face off in the semifinals of the tournament, but Venus withdrew from play.

As Serena recalls, Venus told trainers she may be too injured to play. But the tennis fans were not warned, and word of the match's cancellation came at the last minute.

The raucous crowd vehemently booed Serena, who was then 19. Of that day, she recalls, "I was crying in my towel at the changeover. I would cry, and I knew that I had to go on."

As it happens, Serena Williams played that match against Kim Clijsters, the same opponent who was on the court earlier this month at the U.S. Open, when a line judge's call prompted Williams to launch into a profanity-laced tirade.

"I definitely wore my emotions a little too far on my sleeve at a bad call," Williams says.

While noting that she is not the first tennis pro to throw a tantrum on court, Williams says, "One moment definitely doesn't make your career or define who you are as a person."

Her book, she says, is about experiences like that — good and bad — and what can be learned from them.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.