ON SERENA: Dress, Max Mara ($1,150). Americana Manhasset, 2060 Northern Blvd.; maxmara.com. ON VENUS: Dress, Max Mara ($650). Americana Manhasset, 2060 Northern Blvd.; maxmara.com
When your sister is one of the greatest tennis players of all time, it can be difficult to get together with her for a little family time. When both you and your sister are world-caliber tennis stars—Olympic gold medalists and past US Open champions—it is nearly impossible. But when Venus, 31, and Serena, 29, find that time, it is filled with silliness and laughter, an easy, familial banter as quick as their on-court volleys. As the US Open approaches, both women are keen to hoist another trophy at center court in Arthur Ashe Stadium while at the same time laying the groundwork for their post-tennis careers, including college degrees, charity initiatives, an interior design company, fashion collections and the rightful ownership of a little dog named Harold—or is that Jerry?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Tell me about your summer—your wonderful comeback at Wimbledon, and how you feel leading up to the Open.
SERENA WILLIAMS: I’ve been working out a lot since the summer and was really disappointed at Wimbledon, even though I shouldn’t have been. I felt like I should be really happy, but I am never really happy unless I’m on the top. Ever since then, I dedicated myself to working out, practicing more and just trying to do the right things on the court. I had to get serious about my fitness because I have taken so much time off, I almost forgot how to play.
What is your outfit going to look like at the US Open? I know you have been wearing a lot of lace, like you did at Paris last year and at Wimbledon this year. It has influenced my Home Shopping Network collection; we had a tremendous amount of lace. So what is the next trend?
VW: The US Open this year is all about the little black dress, and I always put zippers in my dresses, so there will be a zipper down the back. Because I don’t ever wear black in the daytime, it will be opposing colors. Last year there were three different styles; this year it will be simple because it is just one, but in different colors.
SW: Are you ever going to redo the Wimbledon outfit? That one was probably my favorite.
VW: That’s interesting, because I think people either loved that one or they hated it. I loved the idea, but when it actually got made, I really didn’t want to wear it. I didn’t even like it until you said you loved it, and then I felt confident to wear it.
SW: Will Harold, your dog, be coming to the Open?
VW: [Laughs] I’m glad you said Harold, my dog.
SW: Also known as Jerry, my dog.
VW: Harold always comes to the Open, but he doesn’t know it’s a tennis tournament. He’s just there for the nap. Tell me some of your first memories at the Open.
SW: I remember Pete Sampras playing in 1990; I was watching on television, and I remember that was the first year he won a Grand Slam. He was really young, and they were talking about how good he was going to be. He was wearing such short shorts; they were almost like a bikini. [Laughs]
VW: Did you think Pete was cute?
Dress, Max Mara ($1,150). Americana Manhasset, 2060 Northern Blvd.; maxmara.com
SW: I definitely thought Pete was very handsome, but around 1996 I thought he was really hot—but I also think everybody is hot, so I don’t know if that is saying much. I think the most random people are really hot. And the first thing I remember about me playing the Open was obviously you playing the Open.
VW: I knew it! I knew you were going to say that!
SW: You got to the finals, and honestly, I was so happy. Every match I lived and died. I wasn’t cute at the time—I really was going through an extremely awkward period in my life, to my dismay when I watched the film. My best memory was when you were playing Sandrine Testud: You were running out of position at this backhand cross-court for the winner, and it was the shot that changed the match. The next match, you did it again against Irina Spîrlea, and I just remember thinking I was going to have a heart attack. And I remember my failure in doubles. [Laughs]
VW: Did you imagine that two years later you would hold the cup?
SW: Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that. Never. However—this is really weird—I knew when I went to play in 1999, I felt that I was going to win even before the tournament started.
VW: That is the hardest one, because I always feel like every match helps you with the next one. I remember I played Anke Huber in ’97, and that is when I got smarter. I started mixing up my shots, and I understood how to raise the ball. That was a huge win. I also remember playing Martina Hingis in the semis one year; I was down 3-5 and I remember thinking as I got up from the changer, ‘It is now or never.’ It was such a calm thought, and I immediately started attacking and won the match. That was probably one of my best moments, because who is that calm when you are down in the match in the third set?
Let’s talk about the Hamptons. I know you have been there a little more than I have. What are your favorite places?
SW: I really have fun there. I stay with Russell Simmons, and we just hang out. I went to the White Party once, but now all of that stuff happens around the US Open, so I can never go. It is a great place to go to if you want to relax, be chill; it is the total opposite of big-city but, at the same time, extremely happening.
Outside of tennis, I know you have your clothes and then you have your interior design. How are you able to stay focused and go to school and do some of my schoolwork?
VW: I just want to say for the record, I will not be doing any of your schoolwork. I think what keeps me motivated is that I truly love everything I do. I absolutely love design; I love learning. My ultimate goal is to get an MBA; hopefully, it will happen for me in the next four years. As far as V Starr Interiors, this has been a big year for us. We got our first hotel client, and we worked with Howard University to do their gym.
What about you? Everywhere I go, people either ask me to tell you that they bought something from you, or they assume that I am you and tell me how much they love you.
SW: [Laughs] HSN is probably the hardest thing I do, because you have to talk for hours nonstop, and I am not a big talker. But I feel really blessed that I have that opportunity.
VW: Let me tell you about my new thing. I know it sounds ridiculous, but my new thing is floral arrangements—with faux flowers.
Dress, Jean Paul Gaultier ($595). Bloomingdale’s, 1000 Third Ave., NYC; bloomingdales.com
VW: I have always loved florals, so recently, I bought some faux flowers and some vases and fillers and got busy making arrangements for the house. They look gorgeous.
Tell me about the fun things you are going to do this summer.
SW: I definitely plan on hanging out with you and going to school, but I really want to go to Paris for a month.
VW: My dream is to go to Thailand; I have talked about it every year and I never do it. My plan is to hang out at a local dive and dance, get some school in and do some new things for V Starr. Actually, I am going to be starting some new charity events for V Starr.
SW: We have opened two schools in Africa, and we are trying to open a third. We are raising money and sending kids to college here in the United States, because college is so expensive.
VW: I have a proposition for you: I think we should start our own tour and hit cities that haven’t seen us before—like, say, Shreveport, where dad is from, and we can raise money for our charities.
SW: That would be good. Would it be like The Williams Sisters Tour though? Because if it’s like that, I wouldn’t want to go. [Ed note: The tour was a charity event from 2004 to 2006 that benefited Ronald McDonald House; Venus won seven of the nine matches.]
VW: I have done a lot of tough things in my life, and nothing was tougher than that.