Tennis pro, fashion CEO: remarkable Serena Williams refuses to let business crisis halt Australian Open run

Simon Briggs
·3-min read
Tennis pro, fashion CEO: remarkable Serena Williams refuses to let business crisis halt Australian Open run - Shutterstock
Tennis pro, fashion CEO: remarkable Serena Williams refuses to let business crisis halt Australian Open run - Shutterstock

Having got this Australian Open off to a visually arresting start with her one-legged catsuit, Serena Williams has continued to combine fashion with tennis in the manner of an expert multi-tasker.

Williams was pushed deep into a deciding set overnight by Aryna Sabalenka, but came up with some clutch tennis to secure a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory and move into her 54th major quarter-final.

Then, in Williams’s on-court interview, she revealed that her attention had been diverted back to the USA on Saturday’s rest day, when she was drawn into a debate over fabrics for her fashion company.

Asked about her clothing business, Williams replied: “It was so crazy – yesterday on my day off, one of our people was out of the office … As CEO, I had to kind of step up a little bit. I was on the phone with our designer making final orders and deciding how much fabric we need for our new collection.

“It was almost a mind trip because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! We have to play tomorrow but we’ve got to get this done.’ Business keeps going.”

Both the Williams sisters studied fashion at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale during the Noughties. At the time, they were accused of taking their eye off the ball in a very literal sense. Yet the fact that they are both still so committed to tennis – Venus at 40, Serena at 39 – suggests that their outside interests have paid off in the long run.

Serena Williams of the US hits a return against Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka during their women's singles match on day seven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 14, 2021 - Getty Images
Serena Williams of the US hits a return against Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka during their women's singles match on day seven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 14, 2021 - Getty Images

The Serena brand is the latest in a series of clothing enterprises. Wiliams had previously worked on eveningwear and then paired up with the Home Shopping Network for a while.

Since Williams launched the latest line in 2018, her friend Meghan Markle – the Duchess of Sussex – has become a valuable ally.

Markle wore one of the company’s blazers during the Sussexes’ tour of Australia that same year. In an interview with The Business of Fashion magazine in 2019, Williams said “That’s what I tell our team internally – ‘We have to make sure it’s super high quality that, you know, is fit for a royal princess!’”

Williams’s adventurous dress sense has not always been welcomed by tennis conservatives. When she captured front pages with a black catsuit at the 2018 French Open, the then president of the French Tennis Federation Bernard Giudicelli said that he would instigate a dress code because “One must respect the game and the place.”

Happily, the unpopular Giudicelli was voted out of his role by a large majority last week.

Meanwhile, Williams will face world No2 Simona Halep in the last eight, after Halep ousted the reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek in three sets. When Halep was asked about the prospect in her on-court interview, she did not even let Jim Courier finish his question before saying “Legend … She is the best.”