Serena Williams of The United States reacts against Arantxa Rus of The Netherlands during their Ladies’ Singles first round match on day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 2, 2018 in London, England.
Photo: Clive Mason (Getty Images)

“[It] must be difficult being Serena Williams, because everyone ups their game every single time they have to play her,” tennis player Madison Keys told the Wimbledon press corps, explaining that just thinking about playing Williams caused her focus to slip during her match against Evgeniya Rodina, resulting in her loss—and a major upset.

“[A]ll of a sudden I came in [to a news conference] the other day, it was like, ‘So if you win, then you play [Serena Williams].’ And I think that kept being in the back of my mind,” Keys said.

Williams’ response? “I’m glad someone admitted that.”

That’s right; Williams knows she’s the G.O.A.T. and is glad her competitors know it, too. In fact, she credits them with helping to make her the powerhouse she is, telling the press corps on Friday:

It’s interesting, because I don’t even scout as much [anymore] because when I watch them play, it’s a totally different game than when they play me. ... That’s what makes me great; I always play everyone at their greatest, so I have to be greater ... if [my level wasn’t high, I wouldn’t be who I am. So I had to raise my level to unknown, because they’re playing me at a level that’s unknown.

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Williams returns to the grass courts of Wimbledon on Monday for her next round, telling the press corp she has “absolutely nothing to lose” at this point in her career. But nevertheless, she appreciates the competition, telling the corps, “I can’t underestimate any of these ladies.” Most of all, Williams appreciates how the competition levels everyone up.

There’s definitely that aura, that kind of thing of “playing Serena.” But at the same time, these women are proud; they don’t go out there and say “I’m going to lose because I’m playing Serena.” They say, “I’m going to play hard because I’m playing Serena.” And that’s what makes these ladies so strong, and it’s admirable.

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Williams credits her own rise to playing the best, including Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport, who formerly trained Keys. “Each of them brought so much to tennis, and so much to the game. And I was really young, so I was able to learn and feed off a lot of it, and I’m really proud of that,” she said.

But being the boss still has its costs—namely, time away from daughter Olympia, for whom Williams is a very hands-on and enthusiastic mom, as evidenced by the toddler’s Instagram page. “[S]he’s so fun, and I just want to share those moments with everyone,” she said about her very social media-savvy approach to motherhood, adding that the challenges she faced while giving birth have made her return to the court that much sweeter. She notes:

It’s amazing for me to be out here; you know, a year ago, I was still pregnant. And then my pregnancy—my delivery took a turn south fast, so that wasn’t fun. But it’s that that makes me appreciate that I’m out here, and that I’m alive, and I’m able to be here and do well and to play well.

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But unfortunately, Wimbledon got in the way of a major milestone this weekend, as baby Olympia took her first steps while Williams was training for Monday’s match.

The outpouring of empathy and support for Williams’ missed moment was overwhelming, and really drove home the plight of working mothers—and women in general—whom Williams says possess a strength they bring to every area of their lives. She muses:

I can say that women are really strong ... we are real fighters, and we fight for absolutely everything that we get and every opportunity that we get, whether it’s tennis, or any other sport, or a company, or a CEO position or a board seat. Like, we fight really, really hard for that, and we don’t take anything for granted.

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