8 Cornerstones of Serena Williams' Inner Circle
Serena Williams will stand alone on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open as she goes for tennis' first calendar-year Grand Slam since 1988. But from coaches to family to friends, Williams is always quick to credit an inner circle that has helped her achieve her historic success.
Meet the key people (and one animal) who make up Team Serena.
Patrick Mouratoglou: coach
It was in the days after Williams' deeply disconcerting first-round defeat at the 2012 French Open, to an opponent ranked outside the top 100, that she made contact with Mouratoglou. Williams, who had remained in Paris, where she has an apartment, needed somewhere to train before that summer's Wimbledon. Mouratoglou invited her to practice at his academy outside the city, and the connection was made.
The partnership was an immediate success, with Williams sweeping through that summer's Wimbledon, Olympic and U.S. Open titles. She has won a total of eight Grand Slam championships since joining forces with Mouratoglou. Without Mouratoglou and his focus on tactics, you wonder whether Williams would have had such success in her 30s, and would have arrived in New York with a calendar-year Grand Slam on her strings. "There are two Serenas," the 45-year-old Frenchman has said. One of whom is "funny and nice and cares for people," while the other "is a champion with a killer instinct once she steps on the court."
Robbye Poole: hitting partner
It was John Isner who suggested to Williams, when she was casting around for a new hitting partner earlier this year, that she meet his friend Poole (who played for Ole Miss and Clemson). Poole's own singles career peaked at 414 in the ATP rankings -- and his total career earnings were a dime or two north of $23,000 -- but now the American has a job "beyond my wildest dreams." It was never going to be easy replacing Sascha Bajin, Williams' hitting partner for eight years. The Serbian had become such an integral part of Williams' life that he also acted as her confidant and bodyguard, and she came to describe him as "family." Williams and Bajin spent about 330 days a year together, but that arrangement ended this season when Bajin went to work for Williams' rival (and friend) Victoria Azarenka. Poole, who admitted to being "starstruck" when he met Williams for the first time, made his debut on Team Serena at Indian Wells, a tournament that Williams had boycotted since she encountered what she called a "genteel lynch mob" in the Californian desert in 2001.
Drake: rapper, friend
Can we expect an appearance at Flushing Meadows from the rapper, who supported Williams at the All England Club? And Toronto. And Cincinnati. And then reportedly more. "We've been friends for so many years, just like family," Williams said during Wimbledon.
Jill Smoller: agent
The latest analysis by Forbes says Williams earned approximately $13 million in endorsements in the 12-month period ending in June 2015. That's on top of the $11.6 million she collected in prize money. But the relationship between Williams and Smoller, a former player who now works for WME-IMG, runs far deeper than looking after the athlete's commercial interests. "Jill goes beyond the call of duty when it comes to being an agent. When I was in the hospital [with a blood clot on my lung], Jill was one of the first people I called," Williams has said. "She was there for me throughout that entire ordeal that shook up my life." Smoller's standing in the tennis industry was enhanced even further when she became Eugenie Bouchard's agent this year (one study said that the Canadian is the world's most marketable athlete).
Venus Williams: sister
There are so many reasons to admire Venus Williams, a winner of seven Grand Slam singles titles and a former world No. 1, who in recent years has overcome an auto-immune disorder to continue playing at the elite level. One of them is that she has conducted herself with such grace as her own achievements have been eclipsed by her younger sister. There is no bitterness or jealousy within Venus, not even a trace. The sisters' fourth-round meeting at Wimbledon this summer was their first encounter at a Grand Slam since 2009 and had some in the Centre Court seats wondering whether they were watching the last all-Williams match on that stage. We shall see. Of this, though, you can be sure: No one in tennis will be more supportive of Serena in New York than her older sister.
Caroline Wozniacki: best friend and karaoke buddy
It was Williams who comforted the Dane when golfer Rory McIlroy broke off their engagement last year (after the invitations to the wedding had already been sent out). When both Williams and Wozniacki lost early at last year's French Open, they went on a short holiday in Miami together before starting their preparations for Wimbledon. The friends played each other in the final of last year's U.S. Open, and later partied together in Manhattan (the evening was documented on Instagram). Williams then showed up at the finish line of the New York City Marathon to greet her fast friend last fall. Wozniacki says the two haven't talked much about the Slam leading up to the Open.
Oracene Price: mother
Officially, Williams is still coached by her mother, Oracene Price, and father, Richard Williams. The reality, of course, is that it is Mouratoglou who prepares Williams -- mentally, physically and strategically -- for her matches. But Oracene remains a great support and a consistent presence at tournaments for Serena. The evening of this summer's Wimbledon champions dinner, Oracene was photographed in a yellow dress, standing beside Mouratoglou and Poole in their tuxedos. Williams later posted the image on social media, saying: "Look at mom hanging with the fellas."
Chip: Yorkshire terrier
Williams' relationship with her adorable dog can be volatile. As she once disclosed: "He's been annoying lately. He cries. I think he's talking to me, and I don't quite understand him. It's really stressing me out a little bit."