How the Pandemic Has Helped Serena Williams Reconnect to Her Life Off the Court

The tennis superstar is redefining her downtime, including extra playtime with her daughter and karaoke night with her girlfriends.

Photo: Courtesy of Michelob Ultra

Serena Williams is just one of the A-list athletes starring in Michelob Ultra's new commercial. The powerful minute-long clip highlights top sport stars, including Anthony Davis and Peyton Manning, in a way we rarely see them — enjoying their downtime outside of the court and field. It poses the questions: Does joy lead to success, or does success lead to joy? Are you happy because you win, or do you win because you are happy?

For Williams, who spoke to Shape via Zoom from Adelaide, Australia, where she's currently training for the upcoming Australian Open, this philosophical question really hits home. "I put so much time and hard work into my game but what I think a lot of people don't know is that I perform best when I'm happy," says Williams. "I like that the commercial focuses on the side of success that's never talked about: the role joy and happiness plays in the journey of winning. So just as much as we are happy to work hard and put it all those hours, we have to find some sort of compromise."

Courtesy of Michelob Ultra

Finding Training-Life Balance

As is true for so many during the coronavirus pandemic, that balance includes slowing down from a formerly breakneck pace and taking more time with family and friends. The commercial offers a glimpse of Serena singing along to karaoke with her girlfriends, dancing, and just being carefree. For decades, she admits moments like this were hard to come by.

"For me, it's hard to find balance," says the tennis star. "My whole life has been about playing tennis and a quest to find balance and happiness. It took me years to realize that I could celebrate a win. After my first Grand Slam, my celebration was going to the movies (laughs). And that was fine! I was only seventeen, and I wouldn't change it for anything. But years and years later, I realized if you don't find personal time, you'll experience burnout and you won't have a long career. I've seen that happen firsthand. It reminds me how important it is to find the time to rest."

Currently, her daily schedule includes hours of playing tennis and strength-training to prep for her upcoming tournament (with occasional dance breaks — often displayed on her Instagram).

"I think quarantine makes you work harder, actually!" she says. "I wake up like 'oh man! I have no excuse not to go out and train.' There are fewer distractions. But I always show up and stay motivated. I have goals!" (See: How to Run Faster, According to Serena Williams' Trainer)

Becoming an Accidental Role Model

On top of the pressure to maintain a laser focus on her game, there's the additional spotlight of being a Black athlete in a predominately white sport and a role model for so many women. (In 2019, she was even subjected to blatant and horrific racism by a Romanian TV host; the anchor was later fired for the offense.)

"I started this journey just wanting to play tennis and not much else," says Williams. "I didn't realize all the other stuff that could come with it. However, [growing accustomed to fame] was just a natural transition for me because I never tried to be anything that I wasn't. You know, just being unapologetically myself. I'm just me and that's all I can be."

Feeling Grateful Through It All

This powerful mindset gives Serena the freedom to live her life on her own terms, ignore the "noise" that could easily upset her, and focus on family time and fun. In the midst of quarantine, she's enjoying uninterrupted time spent with her family, including her 3-year-old daughter Olympia, who's already joining her on the court (in coordinated looks!). (

And when she needs a second to breathe? "Throughout the day, I take breaks," she says. "A brief break, not something that's out-of-pocket. Sometimes, it's playing silly games on my phone to just zone out and relax my brain a little bit. Other times, it can be taking a deep breath and enjoying the moment and telling myself I'm really blessed to be here."

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