Venus Williams on Women's History Month and why she's nowhere near retirement
Throughout her storied career, Venus Williams has been known as a trailblazer on and off the court. With seven Grand Slam titles, a record-tying five Olympic medals and her work in achieving equal pay for women at Wimbledon, the elder Williams sister has clearly made her mark on the sport.
In honor of Women's History Month, Williams, 36, teamed up with paper towels brand Brawny for the company's #StrengthHasNoGender campaign. This March, Brawny is celebrating strong women who have broken down barriers, and has created a special website featuring the stories of several inspiring women. Throughout the month, the company is also releasing custom packaging featuring a woman instead of the iconic "Brawny Man."
We chatted with Venus Williams about the campaign, her incredible run at the 2017 Australian Open, and why she's nowhere near the end of her career.
espnW: How did you get involved with this Brawny campaign?
Venus Williams: It felt like a perfect match. "Strength has no gender" has been my platform since day one -- my mom and dad taught me that. It's wonderful to celebrate Women's History Month through this initiative. Brawny is a household name, and for a company such as this to get behind Women's History Month and to highlight women trailblazers and bring awareness to really showing that women are people, people are people, men are people -- of course I had to be involved with this.
espnW: What do you think of the woman on the logo?
Williams: It's great to have this woman on the Brawny packaging for March, and it's a really strong female. She just embodies the campaign and what we're doing here.
espnW: What does Women's History Month mean to you?
Williams: I love having Women's History Month! We should have it every month! Although maybe it wouldn't be as special if it were every month, it would be like Christmas every day. But it's an important 31 days -- we have that extra day in March to celebrate women. It's an important time for us to share the message of strength and equality.
espnW: We have to take advantage of that extra day!
Williams: Yes! We really do.
espnW: As we celebrate women throughout history this month, who are some of your personal heroes?
Williams: My heroes are close to sports. Definitely Althea Gibson, who was the first African-American tennis player to be No. 1 and to win a Grand Slam. She was dealing with inequality in being both a woman and African-American. Her experience was very challenging, but still she succeeded. And, of course, Billie Jean King, who is a trailblazer -- not only for women's rights in tennis, but all over sports. She is still helping women to this day. She's impacted hundreds of thousands -- no, millions -- of women. It's incredible and important what they both did.
espnW: I know you're close to Billie Jean King. What is the best advice she's given you along the way?
Williams: Oh my gosh, there are so many things I could say here. I think the love that she has for the game -- she emphasizes that it's important that you love what you do. She always says, 'You have to pay the price,' there's joy in that. When you know you've done the work, nothing can stop you. You're powerful, you're prepared, you're confident.
espnW: You've obviously helped carry that torch from Billie Jean King during your career. What made pay equality such an important cause to you?
Williams: It's important to me because as a young girl, I dreamed of winning majors but I didn't know it wouldn't be equal once you got there. Once I was on tour and found that out, I had an opportunity to help make a difference, and that was something I wanted to do.
espnW: You had such an impressive run this year at the Australian Open, what was that experience like?
Williams: Oh my gosh, it was so amazing -- for myself, for my family, for my team, and for people around the world. I'm just running off that energy still right now!
espnW: Obviously, you wanted to win the title yourself in the championship match, but what was it like to see your sister win Grand Slam No. 23?
Williams: That was all I ever wanted for her. I didn't know I would be across the net when she did that -- you definitely can't plan that! I would have loved to have won as well, but it was a beautiful experience to be there.
espnW: Was it extra special that it was the two of you on the court together for such a historic event?
Williams: I think we'll know exactly how special it is years and years from now. I think when you're in the thick of it, you just think, 'OK, now where's 24?' You're always thinking about the next one. It's a wonderful achievement, but I don't think we'll really appreciate it until we can take a step back and look at it. Right now, we're both just focused on winning the next one.
espnW: Do you think this cements her legacy as the best ever?
Williams: I think she is the best I've ever seen. But I think I'm not bad, either [laughing], but she takes it to the next level. It's awesome.
espnW: What is your secret for playing such great tennis at this point in your career?
Williams: No secret! It's just enjoying the game, hopefully staying healthy, blessings from God, loving what you do, and knowing that nothing is impossible.
espnW: So many players seem to get burnt out, but your passion for the game seems unwavering. What do you credit for that?
Williams: I just can't imagine my life without competing. I would have to get to the point of imagining my life without that competition, and I'm just not anywhere near there. 'Pressure is a privilege' -- that's actually my favorite [piece of advice] from Billie Jean.
espnW: What are your hopes for the rest of 2017?
Williams: More wins, more equality. And with every win, hopefully that will spread the word for equality. That's always been my message, and especially my message this month.
espnW: Obviously you've still got a lot of tennis left to play, but when you reflect at this point on your career, what are you most proud of?
Williams: I'm just proud that I get to live my dreams every day. It takes work and dedication to do that, and also to be able to hold my head up high as a woman, and as a proud woman, and to be able to look in the mirror and be proud of my experiences.
espnW: Between tennis and all of your off-court responsibilities, you seem to be busy all the time. What do you like to do when you have a rare day off?
Williams: I like to spend time with my family, that's important. I like to dance, I take dance class, and I love doing karaoke. Those are some of the things I enjoy, but mostly I'm on the court or at the office.