SERVE: Inspired By Black Girl Magic At The Olympics, Venus Williams Prepares For U.S. Open
Minas Panagiotakis

Tennis champion Venus Williams is gearing up to do what she does best – dominate the court at this year’s U.S. Open. 

Before the event, which kicks off next week, the tennis star is giving fans a peek into the preparation process through a new partnership with American Express. ESSENCE caught up with Williams to talk all things tennis, get insight to her pre-game rituals, and discuss her part in bringing Black Girl Magic to the Olympic games this year.

Fresh off of an exhilarating Olympic games run in Rio, Venus says she’s still catching up on all the unforgettable moments that had the world celebrating Black women. 

“I didn’t get to see everything because I was always on site at my own event, so I’m actually still catching up on what everyone did,” she said. “It’s been amazing, not only for African-Americans, but just for Americans. There’s no greater pressure or pride than going out there and representing where you’re from. All of those women, I understand what they went through to actually be a champion there.” 

Female athletes expanding their brands beyond sports is an invaluable concept championed by many of today’s top competitors and Williams believes it’s an important idea every player should embrace. 

“There’s nothing more intimidating and more powerful than a woman who is sure about herself, confident, knows what she’s doing and who empowers herself,” Williams says. “I’ve been so impressed by many women that I have met, in and outside of the tennis world. As an athlete, I try to do what I can on the court, but also off the court. I try to also pursue [other things] I love and hopefully set an example for other athletes that there is life after your sport.” 

Though Venus admits the transition process isn’t always an easy one for athletes who have dedicated their lives to their sport, she does support the idea of giving it a try.

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“It can be very tough to transition because that’s literally all you were because that’s all you did. It wasn’t even just your job, it was your life. So, yes, I encourage all athletes to find who they are off of the court.”

Venus has also been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and equality among all athletes in tennis and sports in general. So does she think having a woman elected as President of The United States will bring about any changes in sports for women? 

“I actually have never given any thought to it. I mean, it won’t be easy being the first of anything; those are big shoes to fill. And, if the effects of that can trickle down to sports then, I will be jumping for joy.” 

Big name brands partnering with big name athletes is certainly nothing new in the sports world, and as a lifelong American Express cardholder, Williams felt right at home with their new partnership, which gives an inside look into how she trains.

“It’s been awesome to connect with American Express,” the star athlete tells ESSENCE. “I’ve been a lifelong cardholder. I got my first card at 15 when my mom got me a card on her account and then, as an adult, I got the platinum card [laughs]. So, yeah, it’s been a great partnership,” she said.

Centered around the U.S. Open and how Williams trains to prepare for such an important match, the AMEX campaign is appropriately titled “Open Like A Pro” and lives under the social media hashtag #AMEXTennis. Williams is proud of how accurately the campaign videos depicts the actions she takes to make sure she’s in top shape when it’s time to compete. 

“Everything I do is geared toward getting that one win and then the next win and the next win. We had a fun time thinking about the creative because when I’m on the court and training, I always have a moment to dance. After my match, I always have a moment to meditate. I’m also always eating healthy. So, we tied everything together in a fun and engaging way and we’re encouraging people to have a look into what it’s like to train like a pro.”

While Venus certainly knows a thing or two about maintaining the mindset of a champion, getting to that point doesn’t involve any pre-game rituals on her end. 

“You know, I actually don’t have any rituals because I was nervous about relying on those rituals to win. So, I’ve always avoided them.”

As for what’s else 2016 has in store for Venus, she’s keeping her eyes on the prize – or prizes – right in front of her this fall. 

“You know, this year has been back-to-back tennis. I don’t even know that I have a world or a life [laughs]. You’re gonna have to ask me that when the off-season comes, then I can fill you in! For now, it’s just practice, sleep, eat, train, play.”

You can check out Venus showing off her dance moves, training secrets and a whole lot more in the American Express “Open Like A Pro” video campaign below.