Serena Williams is one of the strongest and most successful woman in tennis. At 27, she's won every major title, and now she's written a book about her life in the sport. She was in the news this month for her bad behavior in the semifinal match against Belgian Kim Clijsters at the US Open. But she has been able to divert some of that attention by talking about her book, "On The Line". In it, she talks about her close relationship with her family, especially Venus, her big sister and, like Serena, a huge tennis star.

Ms. SERENA WILLIAMS (Professional Tennis Player): You know, Venus was a big star. When we were growing up, it was a lot about Venus. And it needed to be about her, because she was an incredible player. And that actually - being kind of a 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.

WERTHEIMER: One of the things that I read in the book - I think it was - might even have been in the introduction. You talked about we'll be sisters later, that you're competitors now. You can be sisters later.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah. In the beginning of my career, in the book I talk about how difficult it was for me to be there, because first of all, I didn't believe I could. And second of all, I was playing my sister, and I had to come up with something new, that right now we're competitors. And then - once we - 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.

WERTHEIMER: But when you actually started playing in tournaments, you and your sister, you were two kids from Compton which is a, you know, a working-class neighborhood in Los Angeles. You had some tough times getting into big time tennis. I'm thinking about a story that you tell in the book about a tournament at Indian Wells where Venus dropped out at the last minute, and you explain in the book that it was not at all her fault. But then you had to play before a crowd which was very upset and badly behaved.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Indian Wells is in Palm Springs, and Palm Springs is where a lot of people go retire, you know, who are more wealthy. And so that gives you a picture of the crowd that was there. And so when I was there, I was a teenager at the time. I was supposed to play Venus in the semifinals. Unfortunately, she couldn't play and she - I remember she talked to the trainers and she talked to everyone, and the physios. And they, for whatever reason, left it to the last minute to tell the fans. And the next time I came out to play a match, I got booed.

WERTHEIMER: And not only booed, some people, Serena writes in her book, were so angry about Venus' no-show that they shouted racial epithets.

Ms. WILLIAMS: I was crying in my towel at the changeover. I would cry and, you know, I knew that I had to go on. I got strength from, you know, lot of the situations like Althea Gibson, who ended up having to sleep in her car because of the color of her skin and all these other wonderful stories that you have. And I thought, wow, this is nothing compared to what they went through, and then I was able to draw strength from that to finish the match.

WERTHEIMER: You know, I was struck by the fact that that was a match between you and Kim Clijsters. And you were also playing her in the semifinal match that's become so famous at the U.S. Open.


WERTHEIMER: You've had a few days to think about what happened there, your outburst at the line judge. Why do you think it happened?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, you know, there was a lot of things factored into it. I am a passionate a person. And like I said, I mean, when you see me play, you always see me pumping my fists. You always see me being really intense about every point. You see me throw my racket at times. And this is the case where I may have - not may. I definitely wore my emotions a little too far on my sleeve and - at a bad call.

WERTHEIMER: When you apologized for what happened, you said that you will learn and grow from this experience. What do you mean? What will you learn?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I personally will learn how to deal with situations. I mean, just so you know, this isn't the first time this has happened in tennis. And, you know…

WERTHEIMER: You're talking McEnroe and the stomping…

Ms. WILLIAMS: Hello.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Jimmy Connors…

Ms. WILLIAMS: People that became famous because of it.


Ms. WILLIAMS: And, you know, I also think that one moment definitely doesn't make your career or define who you are as a person. And in my book, "On the Line," I talk about lots of things that I did good, lots of things - most things that I did bad. And I'm just learning from that.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much for coming in.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Thank you very much.

WERTHEIMER: Speaking with us from New York City, tennis star Serena Williams.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from