“He’s one of the reasons I’m here,” Williams told reporters after beating Anett Kontaveit in three sets, “one of the main reasons I keep playing.”
Woods was an enthusiastic supporter as well, delivering a vintage Tiger fist pump when Williams’ victory was complete and later tweeting, “It was a privilege to watch greatness.” But he was no ordinary fan.
With both their legendary athletic careers ending, Woods, 46, and Williams, 40, forged a relationship in which she approached him as a mentor, she revealed recently in Vogue.
Williams has played just four matches in the past 14 months, winning just once. Her last match before the US Open was lopsided, error-strewn a loss to 19-year-old Emma Raducanu on August 16 that lasted only 65 minutes. Her trip to Wimbledon this summer ended with a first round loss and an injury when she slipped on wet grass.
She began to mentally prepare for what she calls her evolution to what comes next – business ventures and possibly adding to a family that includes 5-year-old daughter Olympia — but wasn’t quite ready to leave the sport she turned professional in as a 14-year-old. Enter Woods.
“I spoke to Tiger Woods, who is a friend, and I told him that I needed his advice on my tennis career. I said: ‘I don’t know what to do: I think I’m over it, but maybe I’m not finished. [tennis],’” Williams told Rob Haskell in Vogue. “He is a Tiger, and he insisted that I be an animal just like him!
“He said, ‘Serena, what if you only gave it two weeks? You don’t have to do anything. You just go out on the court every day for two weeks and give it your all and see what happens.’ I said, ‘Okay, I think I can do that.’ “
Williams said she waited a month and then returned to the court, where “it felt magical to pick up a racket again.”
At that point, she said she “was good. I was really good. I went back and forth about whether to play Wimbledon, and the US Open after that. Like I said, this whole development thing wasn’t easy for me.”
Currently, her development is stopped. Next up at the US Open is a double Thursday night with her sister Venus. On Friday, she will play the unseeded Ajla Tomljanovic and knows that, with the No. 2 player out of the way, the draw is in her favor for a while as she tries to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
“I know it’s a fantasy that I might have tied up Margaret that day in London [at Wimbledon], then maybe beat her record in New York, and then at the trophy ceremony say, ‘See you!’” Williams told Vogue. “… But I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final court moment. I’m terrible at goodbyes, the worst in the world. But please know that I am more grateful to you than I can ever express in words. You have taken me to so many victories and so many trophies. I will miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis. And I will miss you.”