From USAToday: Laughter is her rallying cry

By Greg Boeck, USA TODAY, originally printed November 5, 2002

Serena Williams enters the season-ending Home Depot Championships starting Wednesday in Los Angeles poised to become tennis' first $4 Million Wonder Woman. But the wonder of this 21-year-old woman extends far beyond the nets she has ruled this year in an implausible rise from No. 9 to No. 1 that shook up the pecking order of a family more than it did the Sanex Women's Tennis Association Tour.

Forget the history-making three Grand Slam titles she won in a row at the expense of her older sister, Venus, whom she replaced at No. 1. Never mind the clinging Lycra catsuit she wore at the U.S. Open in New York that shoved tennis heartthrob Anna Kournikova off the tabloid front pages.

Instead, focus in on The Laugh. You can't miss it. It defines Serena Williams. On the court, where she's tennis' smiling assassin. Or in the privacy of her bathroom, where she retreats to her favorite spot on the planet, a mirror-lined vanity area, and talks and laughs for hours on her cell phone with friends.

It's her calling card, the window into her soul. She has not only laughed her way to the top of the tennis world with her aggressive game, fun-loving personality, witty demeanor and bold attitude, but also into Hollywood's entertainment circle and Fifth Avenue's world of design.

Has anyone in sports — male or female — embraced life in the last year with more passion and joy, more fun and laughter, than Serena Williams? Her mother, Oracene, says the The Laugh is Serena's best trait. Daughter agrees.

"I think so, because if you can't laugh yourself out of a situation, then life gets a bit too stressful or you just won't be happy," Williams says. "It's important, whatever you are doing, playing tennis or modeling, you have to be happy. That's why I like to smile and laugh. I enjoy myself."

Nobody enjoyed winning on the women's tour more than Williams this season. After withdrawing from the semifinals of the Australian Open with a sprained ankle, she reached the finals in nine of her next 11 events and won a Tour-leading eight singles titles — including Grand Slams at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

If she defends her title at the $3 million WTA indoor stop this week, she not only would become the first woman to surpass $4 million in a season but also the 10th to surpass $10 million in career earnings. All at 21 for less than two months.

The 'Serena Slam'

Storybook year? For sure, she says. "When I wasn't able to play the Australian Open, I decided I was tired of losing. Maybe it was good that I wasn't able to play. After that I decided I want to be the best."

Venus, she says, was her inspiration — and her victim. In Paris, then in Wimbledon, where she took over Venus' No. 1 ranking. And, finally, in New York, where she straight-setted Venus to become the first player since Martina Hingis in 1997 to win three majors in one season and only the sixth woman to win three consecutive Grand Slams in the same year.

Next up: The Serena Slam — winning four Slams in a row with a victory in January at the Australian Open. "We'll have to call it that," she says. "It has a ring to it."

She laughs. Sometimes it's a giddy laugh. She's still a girlish 21, unspoiled by the opportunities every fresh morning brings. Other times it's a nervous laugh. "It comes at the wrong times, too," she says, sheepishly. Mostly, though, it's an infectious laugh that echoes the joy of everything she does.

Williams grew up the youngest of five girls in a rough Compton, Calif., neighborhood but embraced the regimented lifestyle her father, Richard, introduced her to at 5 1/2 — and everything else her parents taught her.

No. 1 lesson: Don't restrict yourself to one interest.

Williams hasn't. She is a voracious reader. In Germany during a Tour stop this season, she read three books in one week. "It was ridiculous! It's so boring there," she says.

She reads a book a week. One of her favorite authors: Poet Maya Angelou. But she likes fiction the most.

She's also exploring the worlds of acting and design. Tennis, she says, won't last forever. "In 10 years, I don't see myself playing tennis anymore. I want to do different things. Hopefully, it'll be acting. That's my goal. Regardless, I'll have my fashion house."

She's serious about acting. She hired an acting coach recently and has two auditions scheduled while in Los Angeles. "I'm reading for the director so they can get a feel for what I do," she says. "Traditionally, athletes aren't very good at acting. I want directors to get a feel for me, that way I won't be dubbed like everyone else."

She was a guest voice on a 2001 episode of the animated TV show The Simpsons, appeared in rapper Memphis Bleek's Do My video featuring Jay-Z, made a cameo in Martin Lawrence's movie Black Knightlast year and recently portrayed a teacher at Damon Wayans' son's school in an episode of ABC's My Wife and Kids.

“Like tennis, it just comes natural to me. When I take something serious, I go all out, and so I'm going all out for it and have fun and see what happens."

She calls Sandra Bullock her acting inspiration. "Actors have this personality," she says. "They're outgoing. That's me. They are kind of ... I want to say ... crazy, and that totally describes me to a 't.' "

Another laugh. It's almost like every day is Christmas for Williams. There's always a new present to open. Like her passion for designing.

She spent three semesters at the Art Institute of Florida near the Palm Beach Gardens home she has shared with Venus the last two years. Out of those classes came a line of sportswear she designed for Puma.

But mainly she's into designing evening wear. She's in the process of hiring a pattern maker. "It's totally on me," she says, "not someone else. Eventually I'm going to hire a designer to work out the designs. I'm also looking into my own company. I'm branching out."

On the ride of her life

Who knows what's next? Unlike so many athletes at the top, Williams is determined to enjoy the ride and milk it dry. These are special times, and she appreciates them, even though she says it leaves her precious little private time.

"I don't get much," she says. "I'm always doing something, an interview, a photo shoot, something like that."

She gets away to five or six Miami Heat NBA games a year but rarely dates. Asked if there was anyone special in her life, she says, "No, I'm very single. Very, very single. Right now I'm focused on my tennis. It's not like I'm looking for anybody. I'm just looking to do well in my sport. I'm not trying to get anybody to hold me back. I need to be focused, and I don't think I can be focused with anybody."

At home, she loves to retire to her room with her two dogs — a Staffordshire named Bambi and a Jack Russell named Jackie — and watch TV. Her favorite shows: The Golden Girls and Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants ("The jokes are so funny"), and those on the Lifetime channel.

"Those movies are great," she says. "I'd love to get a small role in one of them someday."

But her favorite room in the house is her bathroom. "I have this vanity area," she says. "I'm always sitting there talking on the phone."

The cell phone is her constant companion. Mom says she's on it 12 hours a day. Williams doesn't offer much defense. "I'm always talking, taking care of business or casual talk."

She and Venus share the same home and, she says, are closer than ever. "She's my best friend."

She's also close to her mother and father/coach, who recently divorced. "For us, family is No. 1," she says. "People come and go and friends come and go but your family has to be there. That's why Venus and I get along so well. We play each other in the finals and in the end, for me, it's, OK, after this match I'm still going to be her sister. Ten years from now, it's not going to matter" who won.

For now, she's on top, living her dream. She's earned this. "Being on the ride I'm on now, I haven't really had the time to sit down and think what I've done. The best part is being on top."

And laughing.

From Los Angeles Times: TELEVISION New set, 1st serve
Serena Williams tries to break into show-biz with a role on "My Wife and Kids."

By Lisa Dillman
Times Staff Writer

October 30 2002--Not only did Serena Williams play her way to the No. 1 ranking on the women's tennis tour, but she got there by beating her older sister Venus four times this year, including three Grand Slam tournaments.

That was the easy part. Now Williams wants to break into show biz.

Which is what brought the spotlight-seeking 21-year-old to a soundstage on the Disney Studios lot in Burbank two weeks ago. Away from center court, and trading in the straightforward one-on-one matchup of professional tennis for the collaborative, sometimes chaotic nature of network TV, she was filming a scene in ABC's comedy "My Wife and Kids."

Williams plays a kindergarten teacher on the "Crouching Mother, Hidden Father" episode airing tonight, in which she verbally spars with series co-star Tisha Campbell-Martin's character, accusing her of being too strict with children in a school play. The show's star, Damon Wayans, plays the man in the middle, trying to keep the peace.

The novice actress even showed off a bit of the improvisation skill that she developed as a tennis player. As she delivered her line, "I'm not looking for a fight," Williams did something that wasn't in the script: She started to remove her earrings and high heels.

Of course. What sane woman is going to enter a battle wearing earrings?

"It was something she threw in there," Campbell-Martin said, "[She] threw a little realism into it. I liked it. I liked working with her."

Williams will need all the breaks and all the support she can get. Athletes who try to break into show business nearly always find excelling at a sport is one thing, making it in Hollywood is something else altogether.

Sure, some make the transition, such as Los Angeles Rams defensive end Fred Dryer who went on to star in the "Hunter" TV series and movies. But for the most part the entertainment industry is littered with the dashed hopes of aspiring actors who've tried to transfer success on the playing field to the movie or TV screen. Think basketball stars Shaquille O'Neal ("Kazaam") and Michael Jordan ("Space Jam"); think swimmer Mark Spitz (as a TV announcer in the 1985 TV movie "Challenge of a Lifetime"), think football players like Jim Brown ("The Dirty Dozen") or Fred "The Hammer" Williamson ("MASH"). Better yet, don't think of them.

Still, Williams insists her interest in acting is more than a passing whim. She says she's been acting since she and her equally acclaimed sister were young girls, making noise in the tennis world, and starring in mini plays that Venus wrote.

"I've never considered tennis as my only outlet," she said. "I've always liked doing different things when I was younger. I just never really liked focusing on tennis. I do see myself as a crossover."

She has been working with a couple of acting coaches, signed with agent Jill Smoller at the William Morris Agency, which also represents Wayans, had a meeting with a network president (CBS' Les Moonves) and found a place to live part-time in Southern California, since the Williams family pulled up stakes from Compton more than a decade ago and moved to Florida.

And there's her attraction to the limelight. Consider the media frenzy she generated at the U.S. Open in September, when she showed up in a body-hugging black cat suit. At least for a moment, cameras shifted off of cover girls like Anna Kournikova.

This isn't to say tennis is being pushed away. Williams is still trying to win a final title of 2002, the season-ending WTA Championships, which starts next week at Staples Center. After that, comes the pursuit of the Grand Slam, which would be winning all four major tournaments -- the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open -- in the same calendar year.

"I've had lots of opportunities. It's just that other career that I have, that other small career that's putting a hindrance on my acting," she said, smiling.

That's typical of Williams' trademark sense of humor. Call it ego with a wink.

She once came to a tournament and joked that her new home was going to have plenty of mirrors so she could look at herself. "Just trying to get my daily dose of me," she said.

Then there's her shot at tennis star and failed game-show host John McEnroe ("The Chair"), who has not always had the kindest words for the Williams sisters. She was once at a lounge in Staples Center and told the story of how she and Venus had years earlier played the warmup for a Jimmy Connors-McEnroe match at the Forum. It was mentioned that it was somehow poetic that McEnroe-Boris Becker was the preliminary for her final against Venus at the U.S. Open in September.

"Who?" Williams said.

She couldn't help herself and started laughing. After all, who is McEnroe, anyway, when you've been hanging out on the set with Damon Wayans all day? The cast and crew were supportive of the newcomer and the on-set acting coach Richard Lyons said Serena was so natural in rehearsals that she was given more lines.

"That doesn't happen a lot. If anything, you get your lines taken away from you," Lyons said.

"She had never done it before and as the takes went by and the days went by, she got looser and started to have a lot more fun with it," executive producer Don Reo said. "I guess it's like everything, acting and performing is like tennis. You have to practice it. The more you do it, the better you get at it. That's what she'd have to do, like everybody else.

"I'd like to bring her back and have her play tennis, but lose. She thought it was funny but said she'd have to play left-handed."
Wayans, meanwhile, was able to help by drawing on Williams' athletic experience, telling her how to respond to Campbell-Martin's character.

"He told me that acting is like you can relate it to tennis. You react to what she says," Williams said. 'You kind of act and react. He said, 'Like when you're on the court, you're reacting to her.' That's how it has to be. You just have to keep reacting.

"I did the last take after he told me that advice and I think that was my best take yet."

Besides, at least one of her lines on the show harkened back to her experiences on the women's tour, noted for its off-court jealousies, cliques, ever-shifting alliances and meddling mothers and fathers.

"That's OK," she reassures Wayans and Campbell-Martin, "I'm used to dealing with children."