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A slightly humbled Serena Williams was in New York Thursday night.
Williams is the world’s number-one women’s tennis player, a stake she’s held claim to for 202 weeks and counting. And when she walks onto Arthur Ashe Stadium this week for the U.S. Open, she’ll do so as the tournament’s top women’s seed.
But Williams has had a rocky year in the biggest events. Though she’s won a number of tournaments, most recently the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, she has suffered early withdrawals at all three majors, including Wimbledon in July. The tournament at Flushing Meadows is Williams’ last chance at a Grand Slam title this year.
“It’s not easy. It really isn’t,” Williams said of staying focused through the ups and downs. She was at the W Hotel in Midtown Manhattan for Taste of Tennis, a usually jaunty charity function ahead of the tournament that features players and top New York chefs. “It’s all about always having positive thoughts. Turn that frown upside down, for lack of better words. Just think positive things,” she said.
On the court, Williams has become almost as well-known for her style as her powerful serve: “It depends on the season and how I’m feeling,” she said of her fashion choices. “I’m wearing a leopard-print dress, which is different for tennis. It’s unusual and it’s a first.” She has parlayed that interest in design into a soon-to-be-relaunched collection for HSN that will have a runway presentation during New York Fashion Week.
“This collection is definitely more avant garde,” she said. “They’re really pieces that everyone can wear…just because the fabric is usable and fittable, doesn’t mean it has to sacrifice style.” Around the hotel, tennis stars — including Williams’ sister Venus, the brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, Agnieszka Radwanska and Sloane Stephens — mingled with fans, though they sometimes seemed less interested in the players themselves than in the food prepared by the likes of the Four Seasons and The Meatball Shop.
“What are the pictures of? Is it a player?” said one person looking at a plate of cupcakes. The desserts featured the faces of some of the top seeds — like the Williams sisters.