After the first set of her semi-final Serena Williams lifted a towel and used a corner to dab her forehead. It was the first sign she had broken any sweat. She defeated Elena Vesnina, the world’s 50th-best player, in 48 minutes.
When she was done Williams posted a Snapchat video of her meeting Kate Middleton, who was in the Royal Box. “OK, so I’m in with ‘In Crowd’ now,” Williams said. Though at Wimbledon who is to say which of them outranked the other. Middleton is a duchess but around here Serena is queen and Centre is her court. There was certainly a regal disdain in the way she dismissed Vesnina 6-2, 6-0. For Vesnina, who won one solitary point on Williams’s first serve, the match was an entirely futile endeavour. She may as well have been trying to swim up Niagara.
Williams swatted back questions as she had done Vesnina’s serves. The one-sided victory somehow became another excuse to talk about equal prize money. A first tentative attempt to draw her into a conversation was met with a sigh and an exasperated reply. She placed her palms flat down on the table. “If you happen to write a short article, you think you don’t deserve equal pay?” Pushed again she said: “I’ve been working at this since I was three years old. Actually, maybe younger, because I have a picture where I’m in a stroller. I think Venus is pushing me and we’re on court. Basically, my whole life I’ve been doing this. I haven’t had a life. I don’t think I would deserve to be paid less because of my sex or anyone else for that matter in any job.”
Wimbledon has been paying equal prize money for nine years and Serena is long past the point where she should have to listen to this rubbish simply because so many other people are still trying to catch up with her. But then she’s always been out there, miles ahead of the rest.
“There’s talk about you going down as one of the greatest female athletes of all-time,” another journalist ventured. “I prefer the words ‘one of the greatest athletes of all time’,” Williams replied, pointedly. The journalist didn’t attempt a return.
Williams also said: “I would like to see people, the public, the press, other athletes in general, just realise and respect women for who they are and what we are and what we do.”
Williams does not need to be so polite. In an interview published this week, with Grazia, she was asked why Beyoncé brought her in for a cameo appearance in the video for Sorry, a track from her recent album Lemonade. “Middle fingers up, put them hands high,” run the lyrics, while Williams dances, as she put it, like no one’s looking. “Wave it in his face, tell him boy bye.” If the interviewer really needed an explanation, they can’t have been paying attention. “I’m not sorry for who I am,” Williams said. “I’m not sorry about anything.”
While Serena was talking, her sister Venus was playing. She was deep into the second set of a match against Angelique Kerber. The scores from Centre Court flashed up on the TV screens in the conference room and, as Serena spoke, it became clear she would be playing Kerber in the final, that there would be no fifth set in the series of four all-Williams Wimbledon finals. A shame, because as Serena said it would have been “going down memory lane”. Venus has not played in the final of a grand slam since the US Open in 2010. She was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome the following year and her game has not been the same since. She is 36 and running out of chances.
Serena seemed unsure about how she would have felt playing Venus in the final. She would have loved that “we’d be guaranteed to have a Williams on the trophy” but said that after everything Venus has been through, it would have been particularly difficult to have to face her in another final. “I’m always constantly rooting for her no matter what,” Serena said. “I wouldn’t have my success if it wasn’t for my sister, absolutely not.”
She is happier to be by Venus’s side which is exactly where she was later in the day, in the quarter-finals of the women’s doubles, against Vesnina again, playing with Ekaterina Makarova. The Williams’s won that, too.
Serena does not need to ask for anyone’s respect. She demands it and only a fool would refuse her.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010