Venus Williams chatted with fans and autographed balls at a low-key fashion show on Sunday, highlighting her spring tennis clothing line.
The EleVen by Venus collection was to be worn by ball girls and ushers at the BNP Paribas Showdown on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
“[We] have the opportunity to outfit everyone, and it’s just a win-win,” Williams said in a recent phone interview.
Showdown founder Jerry Solomon and Williams decided to showcase her active wear, featuring berry colours and classic black and white. Vince Camuto sportswear will outfit the male staffers at the 10th anniversary of the event on World Tennis Day.
“We have always been more than a night of tennis,” Solomon said.
At the Garden, Williams will play French Open champion Garbine Muguruza in an exhibition with a team tennis format of The Americas vs The World.
She’ll join Juan Martin del Potro in doubles against Muguruza and Kei Nishikori. Andy Roddick faces Lleyton Hewitt and Jack Sock takes on Nick Kyrgios.
Here are some things to know about Williams, who frequently travels with her gray Havanese dog Harold, enjoys singing karaoke and looks forward to the French Open, where she’ll extend her record as all-time leader in Grand Slam appearances to 74.
Williams has a busy life off the court, working toward her master’s degree in interior architecture for her VStarr Interiors company and as part-owner of the Miami Dolphins with her sister Serena.
She relaunched EleVen in 2012 after dealing with distribution issues during the recession. Paragon Sports in New York, which hosted the fashion show, and other stores and tennis clubs will sell her line of tennis, yoga and active throughout the year.
“I’m fully on the case, my hands are all involved in design,” said Williams, who earned a degree in fashion design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. “That’s what makes obviously EleVen very EleVen, it has my point of view.”
She says the tricky part is coming up with a new selection of hues.
“It feels like you’ve used every colour already,” she said, laughing. “Let’s try to find a colour that people like to wear that we haven’t used already.”
Williams needed all the savvy of a 36-year-old veteran to reach the Australian Open final in January, competing for the title for the first time in 14 years. She lost to Serena, but the seven-time Grand Slam singles winner seems to especially savour those moments.
“It was great, I played against a lot of players who were very worthy of being in that final two,” Venus said. “So I was pretty delighted to be there.”
Now ranked No 13, she’ll play this week at Indian Wells, California, followed by the Miami Open near her backyard of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
She’s experienced the roller coast of fatigue with Sjogren’s Syndrome, diagnosed in 2011. After the Australian Open, she lost in the first round of the St Petersburg Open and acknowledged she wasn’t feeling her best.
All the while, she’s maintained a steady decade-plus coaching relationship with Dave Witt.
“I think we have very similar temperaments, we’re very laid back,” Williams said. “If it’s working, don’t fix it.”
She says her game has evolved since turning pro at 14 in 1994.
“You have to improve to be competitive,” Williams said. “I think my mental game has improved the most, trying to be stronger mentally and physically. Just a lot more time in the gym increasingly is crucial.”
Williams has 1.66 million followers on Twitter, which features a photo of Harold, posts on keeping girls in sports and her cover story on entrepreneurship in Inc magazine.
Williams helped bring equal prize money to the Grand Slam tournaments in 2007, urging Wimbledon to finally give athletes of both genders the same paycheck.
She’s also an investor in Ellevest, which helps women with investment strategies.
Williams recently joined the #StandUp movement, saying in a video on Twitter: “I’m standing up against inequality and I am standing up for constant positive change, embetterment and for love in this world.”
AIMING FOR 40?
Williams has talked about possibly playing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when she’d be 40. Billie Jean King played until 40 and Martina Navratilova won the US Open mixed doubles title at 49.
She attributes her longevity to “lots of prayer” and passion for the game.
“You have to love it, it’s a lot of work,” Williams said. “If you feel like you have more to give, the heart is in it, that makes it pretty easy to get out there and pay the price.”