Serena Williams covers the August 2019 issue of Harper’s Bazaar magazine photographed by Alexi Lubomirski. Serena appears on the cover — and inside the pages —fully unretouched.
Reflecting on her actions at the 2018 US Open against Naomi Osaka: “I started to think again, ‘What could I have done better? Was I wrong to stand up? Why is it that when women get passionate, they’re labeled emotional, crazy, and irrational, but when men do they’re seen as passionate and strong?’”
On Naomi’s victory: “In the end, my opponent simply played better than me that day and ended up winning her first Grand Slam title… I thought back to my first Grand Slam. It’s the one you remember best; it’s supposed to be the most special. This debacle ruined something that should have been amazing and historic. Not only was a game taken from me but a defining, triumphant moment was taken from another player, something she should remember as one of the happiest memories in her long and successful career. My heart broke.”
On Serena’s apology to Naomi: “Days passed, and I still couldn’t find peace. I started seeing a therapist. I was searching for answers, and although I felt like I was making progress, I still wasn’t ready to pick up a racket. Finally I realized that there was only one way for me to move forward. It was time for me to apologize to the person who deserved it the most. I started to type, slowly at first, then faster as if the words were flowing out of me.
“Hey, Naomi! It’s Serena Williams. As I said on the court, I am so proud of you and I am truly sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself. But I had no idea the media would pit us against each other. I would love the chance to live that moment over again. I am, was, and will always be happy for you and supportive of you. I would never, ever want the light to shine away from another female, specifically another black female athlete. I can’t wait for your future, and believe me I will always be watching as a big fan! I wish you only success today and in the future. Once again, I am so proud of you. All my love and your fan, Serena.”
On receiving Naomi’s response to her apology: “When Naomi’s response came through, tears rolled down my face.
“People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can’t differentiate between the two,” she said graciously. “No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing.”
It was in this moment that I realized the real reason the US Open was so hard for me to get over: It wasn’t because of the backlash I faced but rather because of what had happened to the young woman who deserved so much more in her special moment. I had felt that it was my fault and that I should have kept my mouth closed. But now, seeing her text putting everything in perspective, I realized she was right.”
On women in tennis: “This incident—though excruciating for us to endure—exemplified how thousands of women in every area of the workforce are treated every day. We are not allowed to have emotions, we are not allowed to be passionate. We are told to sit down and be quiet, which frankly is just not something I’m okay with. It’s shameful that our society penalizes women just for being themselves.”
On why she speaks up against injustice—and won’t ever stop: “Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve felt a need to voice my opinion and be heard. Some may not like it, and to be honest, that’s their prerogative. I respect it. Growing up as the youngest of five girls, I learned that I had to fight for everything I wanted. And I won’t ever stop raising my voice against injustice… Ultimately, my daughter is the reason I use my voice, the reason I picked up a racket again.”
Cover: Gown by Stella McCartney | Earrings & Necklace by Tiffany & Co. | Ring: Williams’s own
Image 1: Cape by Ralph Lauren Collection | Bracelet by Bulgari | Sandals by Christian Louboutin | Anklet: Williams’s own
Image 2: Ear Accessory by Gucci
[Photo Credit: Alexi Lubomirski/Harper’s Bazaar Magazine]