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Now Williams Inspired to Study Medicine

Williams is studying online for the moment, although she points out that the university is on its summer break at the moment, so she is taking the opportunity to catch up on her Netflix viewing instead.

Published: 28th June 2015 09:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th June 2015 09:00 AM   |  A+A-

Serena Williams-Italy-AP

"Serena Williams will see you now." Imagine a scenario, maybe a few years in the future, where you go in for a medical consultation and find the 20-time grand slam champion sitting on the far side of the desk.

An unlikely prospect? Well, yes. But not completely out of the question, because Williams has been studying for a pre-med degree at the University of Massachusetts. Her latest academic exploration, which comes after previous courses in fashion and business management, was prompted by the auto-immune condition - Sjogren's syndrome - that has afflicted her sister and closest companion Venus.

"After what my sister went through, I wanted to really focus on holistic medicine," Williams told The Sunday Telegraph last week. "And then I was really interested in learning things from the earth that can heal us. Long?term healing. There's so much cancer that is going around now. So it's really an interest in that. And also when I go to Africa, with the work I do with my schools there, it's very useful to have something like that so that I know more about the health issues."

Williams is studying online for the moment, although she points out that the university is on its summer break at the moment, so she is taking the opportunity to catch up on her Netflix viewing instead. If she wants to go deeper into the subject, she says, she will have to start going into the biology labs. "I am leaving all the classes at the school for when I decide to retire," she says, giving the final word an archly dramatic flourish.

Stick with that same course in the UK, I point out, and eventually you find yourself in the dissection room with the cadavers. "Yeah, I think for us too," she replies. "We'll see. I might be changing my major again for the fourth time!" She laughs, the big booming laugh you sometimes hear in her press conferences.

Williams's on-court persona might give off more "Don't mess with me" vibes than a king cobra, but when you meet her in a social setting - in this case, the Women's Tennis Association's pre?Wimbledon gathering at the Kensington Roof Gardens - she comes across as the soul of the party.

It is easy to forget, amid Williams's bewilderingly wide portfolio of interests, that this is the world's best tennis player - and almost certainly the greatest of all time. Three months short of her 34th birthday, she comes into London as the owner of the three other grand-slam titles. Victory here would match the so-called "Serena slam" that she completed in Australia in 2003. It would also leave her needing only the US Open - where she has not been beaten since Sam Stosur upset her in the 2011 final - to complete the holy grail of tennis: a clean sweep of all four majors in a single season.

The pressure is immense, just as it must have been on Novak Djokovic when he went into last month's French Open looking to complete his own career set. Perhaps this is why the two world No. 1s are so keen to distract themselves with extra-curricular activities: for him meditation and research into Serbian history, for her not only the medical degree but the design of a new fashion range that will be displayed in a catwalk show in New York later this summer.

Williams, whose only defeat this season came in Madrid almost two months ago, no longer has Djokovic as her companion in the pursuit of the calendar slam. Although she does point out that "I have a new partner in golf, I forget his name [Jordan Spieth], but he just won two in a row on the golf tour."

While Djokovic lost a riveting French Open final to Stan Wawrinka's blunderbuss of a backhand, Williams's Parisian crisis came in the semi-final against Timea Bacsinszky.
On paper, she should have brushed aside her Swiss opponent, who had briefly quit the sport to take up a post in hotel administration only two years earlier.

But Williams was carrying a freakishly heavy cold and must have been up to her eyeballs in aspirin and paracetamol.
"I was in the locker room and I was literally in tears after the semis," she says now. "I was like 'I wish I had lost,' and when I lost the first set the last thing I wanted to do was to go three sets, and the next thing you know I was in a third set and I was like 'This can't be happening, I can't be out here, I don't feel good.' I was like 'Arrggghh,' so I can't believe I won that tournament, that was totally insane. In the final I was so focused, but at that point I had no other option."

Some viewers of that bizarre semi-final felt that Williams was overdoing the theatrics. She lolled her head, dropped her shoulders and sometimes seemed to be on the point of collapse - only to suddenly perk up when the match was in the balance and reel off ten successive games. But Bacsinszky showed no bitterness afterwards, only congratulating her opponent for "pulling out a great match".

In February, Williams started a first-person piece for Time magazine with the sentence "We were outsiders". And yet she is now more welcomed in the locker room than ever before. She has even developed close personal friendships among the leading players, notably Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka, which is something that could never be said of that other WTA tour empress Maria Sharapova.

"I always got along with people, but at the same time I didn't spend time in the locker room," says Williams. "I really don't now either, I just exchange numbers more now and I'm more open. Just being on tour for so many years, these girls become your life. If something tragic happens, the first thing you do is call them; when something happy happens, you call them. In a way it's like a massive sisterhood.

"We play from January to November so I see these ladies more than I see my family sometimes. You just have to be able to be happy for the next woman, and any woman's achievement is an achievement for all women, that's what I believe. It's been a great growing experience for me as well, just to be more open and hopefully more inspiring."

Ultimately, though, Williams's closest ally will always be Venus, her doubles partner and soulmate. She admits that she did start building a mansion in Miami's exclusive Palm Beach Gardens, so that she could move out of the house they have shared together throughout their adult lives. "But then I stressed out about it. We are still living together, but I've bought somewhere just across the street. Which is kinda ridiculous, but I guess I love my sister." Loves her enough, in fact, to want to be her doctor as well as her rock.



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