How Serena Williams rewrote the playbook for female athletes juggling motherhood and sport
HERSHEY, Pennsylvania — Before Serena Williams’s first Wimbledon title last month, she wrote a new book about childbearing, titled “The Truth About Being Bad at Sports,” explaining that her competitive edge is more mental than physical. The title came from Williams’s belief that, after years of focusing on and beating her competition on the tennis court, her mental approach to sports is in need of overhaul.
The book was a surprise, published on the second anniversary of her Wimbledon victory. But it quickly became a bestseller, thanks in part to the cover photo: Serena Williams in a white dress, with her two young daughters sitting on either side of her. The photo is striking — for the color and the attention to detail of the dress. But it’s also jarring because, like so many photos of Williams from that time and the next, it’s a composite. The book’s author is a close friend: a former model and Williams’s former tennis coach, Patrick McEnroe.
When I wrote about the book last month for the New York Times Magazine, part of me was surprised to discover that some people did not know Williams was writing a book about her mother: a successful figure in the tennis world who had not publicly talked about her family life or her motherhood.
When I found out about the book, I was touched. But also, to a certain extent, amused. I can laugh about a book about motherhood? A woman who won Wimbledon, writes a best-selling memoir about her experience of mothering a child, and who’s always smiling? A woman who was once the number-one tennis player in the world?
“I didn’t realize it was a best-seller,” Williams told me in her home in Pennsylvania, a year after returning from Wimbledon for the first time as a father. “It was really unexpected. But, really, when I read it, it’s pretty much what I had in my heart all along.