Serena Williams covers Vogue, talks female friendships & being ‘mean & tough’

serena vogue

Serena Williams covers the April issue of Vogue Magazine, “The Shape Issue.” Annie Leibovitz shot the cover. Thoughts? There is a lot of online debate as to whether this is brilliantly “undone” or just not “Vogue” enough. I tend to like it, but then I appreciate the fact that Anna Wintour put one of the greatest athletes of all time on the cover, and that the athlete happens to be a black woman and a curvy and physically strong woman. I’m fine with the “undone” no-makeup sort of look and her wonderful hair, I just sort of wish they had put Serena in a different dress because this Rag & Bone sheath is kind of meh.

As for the article, it’s pretty cute actually – you can read the full thing here. While Serena got the cover, the article is all about her friendship with Caroline Wozniacki and how they’re BFFs for life and Caroline is photographed and interviewed extensively too. Apparently, Serena helped Caroline through her broken engagement to Rory McIlroy (Serena had even planned the bachelorette party). The article ends up being a great glimpse of two warrior-athletes on the court who can maintain a very real, authentic friendship off the court. Some assorted quotes:

Serena on female friendships: “Let’s just put an end to this myth that women players cannot be friends. We can!”

Beating Maria Sharapova in Australia: “I was really calm and positive. I knew I couldn’t get crazy on the court. I have done everything I wanted to do in tennis. There’s nothing missing, so all I have to do is go out there and do what I do best.”

She’s not the same person off the court: “On the court, I am fierce! I am mean and I am tough. I am completely opposite off the court. My confidence just isn’t the same. I wish I was more like I am on the court. Nobody would know that I am constantly crying or complaining.”

Serena on being #1: “It’s hard and lonely at the top. That’s why it’s so fun to have Caroline and my sister, too. You’re a target when you’re number one. Everyone wants to beat you. Everyone talks behind your back, and you get a lot more criticism. God forbid I lose. It’s like ‘Why?’ Well, I am human. There are always people who aren’t going to like you. Look at Jesus; there are people who didn’t like him.” [Caroline says, “Wait, are you comparing yourself to Jesus?”] Serena Says: “Oh, God, no, I am far from it. As everyone knows. But as a Christian, I do try to be Christlike.”

Whether Serena wants to start a family: “I guess. I’m not even looking for it.”

[From Vogue]

After reading the full piece, I do think Caroline and Serena’s relationship is really sweet and cute. Serena seems very kind to Caroline, like she sees her as a younger sister. I do think that it’s probably a great thing for young girls to see – that you can be one of the greatest athletes in the world and still be friends with your competition. Except, somewhat hilariously, Serena doesn’t have this kind of relationship with another one of her main competitors, Maria Sharapova. I’ve heard that Maria and Serena have nothing but shade for each other.


Photos courtesy of Annie Leibovitz/VOGUE and WENN.

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69 Responses to “Serena Williams covers Vogue, talks female friendships & being ‘mean & tough’”

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  1. kaligula says:

    I don’t know what to make of this cover shot. Makes her look so very androgynous. Which is bold and I like that, but I wonder if it will make Serena unhappy. Well anyway it is interesting and not middle of the road or ignorable….

    • Dubois says:

      I love it. I love the cool tones, the understated-ness, her hair, her expression. I love it all. I see blue everywhere. Her brows, her hair. Fierce. And good for Vogue for knowing better than to mess with her skin tone. They didn’t mess with Lupita’s either I beleive

    • msw says:

      I think it looks great. It looks like her. She is beautiful and doesn’t look like a cookie cutter Hollywood cliche. And YES to keeping her natural skin tone.

    • mike says:

      Well that’s what she looks like in her own person.

      Would you have preferred a ton of makeup, photo-slimming and heavy Photoshop filters and manipulations to make her look more quintessentially and conventionally feminine? She is a woman no matter how simple the styling is.

    • Veronica says:

      Serena does have every strong, sculpted features that have had a touch of androgyny to them. It may not be your thing, but it is her. I’ve always thought it gave her face a lot of power and character, reflecting her athletic prowess.

    • annaloo. says:

      I love it. Solid, strong, serene….it’s very straightforward, very natural…I think it’s a great cover.

    • TrixC says:

      I think it’s an interesting cover, but Serena looks very severe. She has a beautiful smile and looks so much prettier in the candid photo.

    • littlestar says:

      I love her hair and the minimal makeup, and the colour tones used, but I do wish they put her in a nicer dress. That dress is BORING.

    • inner stillness says:

      I love it, something very Grace Jones about her look on the cover.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      I don’t think she looks androgynous, I think she looks strong in body and spirit. Not necessarily male traits. I think she looks great and I am glad she got the cover.

      • ISO says:

        I am torn on my affinity for this photo- it’s authentic, yet severe. I would have prefered natural and joyful versus sterile. I would have prefered tastefully/artistically nude to match her face- am I crazy but wouldn’t this have been more beautiful showing more skin?

      • Tiffany :) says:

        I think natural and joyful would be been lovely! I LOVE joyful photos…but we don’t seem to get them very much in fashion. It is all pouts and glares.

        I don’t know about the nudity/more skin idea. I think she has an amazing body and unbelievably beautiful skin, but I also feel like I have seen so much nakedness recently that I am numb to it. She could certainly pull it off, but I don’t know if it would be necessary.

    • Janet says:

      A strong beautiful woman on the cover? I am all about this!

    • Loulou says:

      I love this cover!! So striking and beautiful. Not your cookie-cutter, huge white teeth, cat-eye blahness. Absolutely love it.

  2. cubfan34 says:

    I wouldn’t have recognized her.

  3. I’m not a tennis fan but I liked their doco. It was interesting but I could never keep track of who was who. I know one of the sisters is softer and more laid back? And gave her sister the opportunity to take the spotlight? Anyway since I saw that I really liked them but it didn’t make me want to watch tennis :/

    The cover is meh. It looks like they didn’t know how to style her.

    • Bridget says:

      I wouldn’t at all say that Venus stepped back at any point to give her sister the spotlight. Venus is amazing, but Serena has turned out to be one of the greatest of all time and is still playing.

  4. Lucy2 says:

    I think she looks really pretty on the cover. It’s nice to see a more natural looking photo, since everything else out there is Photoshop and make up contouring and who knows what else.

    • Josephine says:

      I agree. I think the cover is stunning, and thank the stars that they didn’t try to photoshop out her strong shoulders, although I will say that her arms are way more cut than that.

    • Erykah B. says:

      I agree, that’s why I like it. Also there is no fuss and distractions just Serena, and that is all that is needed.

  5. DaysandNightsonair says:

    The dress has an interesting colour and is bland otherwise. BUT: it brings out Serena very much. It directs the focus on Serena. And that is why I like it.

  6. hindulovegod says:

    The problems between Serena and Sharapova happened a few years ago and involved Grigor Dimitrov, who dated Serena and now lives with Maria. In recent years, Serena and Sharapova have gone back to a normal, professional relationship.

    I like that she looks like herself on this cover, albeit in a boring dress. Serena’s so powerful, and I’m glad the editors embraced that.

    • Bridget says:

      It wasn’t even 2 years ago. And those 2 have never particularly liked each other.

      • msw says:

        I will never forget that final where Sharapova kept getting lobs right over Williams’ head. I figured that was why they didn’t like each other. I don’t pay attention to their personal lives, but that is interesting information.

      • Bridget says:

        Serena is unquestionably the better tennis player, but Sharapova has always gotten better endorsement deals and made more money.

    • Kiddo says:

      I think the ‘boring’ dress is refreshing since a lot of her outfits are horrendous. It’s very flattering.

      • QQ says:

        YES Kiddo YES I like they kept it simple cause to her Own devices Serena is good for TERRIBLE colors Fussiness, no bra, unflattering hair color/weaves etc This is very understated glam

      • Bridget says:

        @Kiddo & QQ: remember when she was a “fashion designer”?

        I love the photo.

      • QQ says:

        OMG Bridget That designer Stint!!! my word!…

    • KAI says:

      About a year ago Williams had made some nasty comments about another top player and her boyfriend and those comments were widely assumed to be about Sharapova. Shortly thereafter Sharapova mentioned in a press conference that Serena was dating a married man with children.

      I don’t think they will be friends anytime soon.

    • Alicia says:

      They’ve never liked each other. There has been bad blood between them since 2004 when Sharapova first made her mark on the scene. I think they are civil to one another in the press but they also don’t go out of their way to say good things about each other.

      Although Sharapova did defend Serena last year when Russian tennis president Shamil Tarpischev referred to Serena and Venus as the “Williams Brothers”.

  7. minime says:

    meh…The Williams sisters (and specially Serena) are not a good example of female friendship within top athletes. Sharapova is not the only one that she publicly badmouthed. Combine that with her comments on rape culture and well…I can’t really read her interview and find it anyhow genuine (only when she slips into comparing herself to Jesus, that was à la Kanye genuine). It feels like she’s trying to wash her image.

    • Joy says:

      Yeah I find it interesting that other women who have said way less offensive things have been taken to TASK on this site, and yet Serena seems to get a pass.

    • Leona says:

      From what I read on tennis blogs both Venus and Serena have had it very rough in the locker room. Try combining competition, with envy and throw in a dash of racism and see what you get. I think Serena is being diplomatic here when she refers to gossip, it cant have been easy for her. Of all the female players with muscular structure, apparently she is the only one who is accused of being doped up (for 15 years?!) or being secretly male. So much nonsense to negate her success.

      Venus is a calmer personality though and from everything I have read is the type to ignore the haters. Serena is more feisty and implusive, its easier for her to give throwaway statements at press conferences where Venus may be more careful. Either way, Serena is an amazing champ, what she has done for the sport is unrivaled and thank God she is not bland either. I hope she plays “bow down b*tchez” in the locker room before a match.

    • Bridget says:

      Serena more than atoned for her comment, and if you remember the circumstances it was more sheer ignorance than actual malice. She was doing an interview with a reporter, saw a brief news report on the subject, and made a stupid offhand comment. Should she have done that, especially about a high profile story she knew none of the details of? Of course not. But should this be the final word on Serena Williams? No way.

      Also, professional tennis is not an environment that is conducive to forging fast friendships in the locker room. The Williams sisters have not had the easiest time over the years in that environment, and I personally find Serena to be interesting, complicated, and ferocious.

      • Franca says:

        People get crucified here for much less. I can not forget the comments she made about that rape case. She is an amazing athlete, but she lost my respect as a person.

      • Bridget says:

        Since when is “everyone else does it” a valid reason?

      • Kitten says:

        Part of the reason why people have been so forgiving towards Serena is that she owned up to her ignorant comments, issued what seemed like a heart-felt apology, and reached out to the family of the Steubenville rape victim.

      • notasugarhere says:

        When did she own up to it? Was that later?

        “What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved — that of the rape victim and of the accused,” she wrote.

        “I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written — what I supposedly said — is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame,” Williams added.

        Stephen Rodrick, who wrote the Rolling Stone article, stands by his reporting, telling the Poynter Institute: “The interview is on tape. Other than that, I’ll let the story speak for itself.”

      • Bridget says:

        I’m going to take her at face value that she apologized directly to the girl’s family, but for Serena Williams the above is about as much of an apology as anyone would get. Serena Williams had to develop a hard outer shell damn quickly. The kind of comments that have been leveled at her (and her sister) have picked apart her skin color, her build, her appearance, in such a way to try to dehumanize her at every turn. “Williams brothers” anyone? So I don’t exactly expect public vulnerability or introspection from her. And I think she truly thought that she expressed herself better than she had in that interview.

      • notasugarhere says:

        None of that changes the fact of what she said – and later denied saying. And however she and her sister have been treated, how does that justify her belittling treatment of someone else?

  8. Dena says:

    I love Serena but there is something unsettling/unsettled for me about the cover. It’s too flat or something. Fierce like a lion 4 sure but I just can’t put my finger on what’s off. I bet it’s something small too. It will come to me though.

    • Santia says:

      They use ALL the photoshop all the time and could spare NONE for Serena? And they dress her in that drab, awful dress? Vogue is supposed to be about glamor – this cover is not glamorous. It’s “off” for a Vogue cover. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s like they intentionally sabotaged a cover with a black woman on it, so they can then say it undersold BECAUSE it was a black woman on the cover.

      • Dena says:

        Yeah. She needed a dress that is warmer color for her skin tone. I don’t like the Diana Ross hair either.

      • Kitten says:

        I don’t understand why anyone would advocate for Photoshop ever, but particularly not in this case. Serena looks naturally beautiful in this photo. In fact, this is probably the best “glam” shot I’ve ever seen of her.

    • notasugarhere says:

      I dislike the poor fit of it over her shoulders. It makes me want to reach out and yank that left section flat.

  9. The Other Katherine says:

    I love, love, LOVE this cover. Serena looks strong and beautiful. The direct gaze at the camera is great, and the hair is fabulous.

  10. als says:

    I think Serena and Maria are just not compatible, so an off-court relationship like the one with Caroline would be impossible.
    Maria Sharapova always gave me the impression that she is fierce off-court as well, unlike what Serena says about herself in this piece – you can see the difference in their press conferences as well.
    Anyway, I love them both and Serena’s cover is amazing.

  11. Nev says:


  12. msw says:

    Interesting to hear she and Wozniaki are buds off court. I am glad she isn’t so intense off court. I have mad respect for her game because she is indisputably amazing, but on court, she is such a butthead. I don’t think much of athletes who are pouting or blaming umps or taking away from others accomplishment by saying, “you didn’t beat me, I beat myself.”

    And she and Sharapva have long standing beef.

  13. Mean Hannah says:

    This cover photo would be perfect – if not for the cut of the boring dress. The color is nice on her, but it would have looked so much better with a lower neckline. Still, she looks beautiful – and her strong features and fierceness really stand out. I love the hair and the makeup, though her eyebrows could have been done better (also, it looks a bit ashy).

    Ever since reading Mindy Kaling’s book, I can’t help but side eye any publications/stylists who put celebrities into navy dresses for photo shoots.

  14. kc454 says:

    If you have ever read some of the awful, degrading, and inhumane comments made about Serena and Venus, it’s a shame. Tennis is one of the hardest sports to participate in period as it is only the players and the judge, no coaches, and no teammates. No advice between games or sets, no outside analysis of their opponent, nothing. As a player, they either figure it out, or lose the match. To work so hard and evolve over the years from their beginnings is AWESOME for the Williams Sisters despite the negative criticisms. I LOVE them, and will always support them and any other athlete that has worked so hard to achieve great success! Serena and others like her are a true inspiration to others regardless of their race.

    • Alicia says:

      Agreed. I can’t think of two other athletes that have had as much shit said about them as Venus and Serena have.l I don’t agree with all of the comments Serena has made in the past but she has apologized and atoned for many of them.

      Go on any sports site and when the topic of the Williams Sisters come up the racists come out of the woodwork like cockroaches. They get called racist names, get called “men”, the “Williams Brothers”, a co-host on the Don Imus show once called them ugly, said that they were animals and said they should be posing for National Geographic Magazine. Someone actually showed Serena those remarks and you could tell she was struggling not to cry.

  15. cs says:

    I’m pretty sure Serena isn’t the easiest person to get along with – Sharapova isn’t the only top player she has beef with. And last year (the year before?) Sloane Stevens, who’s a black American player, made some comments on how Serena wasn’t particularly nice to her. I get a feeling she’s one of those people who is an amazing friend when she is your friend, but is probably very abrasive if you aren’t.

    Speaking of her and racism though, it was amazing that she finally went back to the Indian Wells tournament recently. That place was one of the most well-remembered sites where the crowd was almost actively racist (and accused her family of match-fixing, which was ridiculous), and she and Venus avoided the tournament since the late 90s because of it. She paired up with the Equal Justice Initiative when she went back this year though, which was such a great moment.

    I really hate that cover. Her face looks like it’s been photoshopped to look thinner and the dress is terrible. You’d think that for someone who’s an athlete they could at least have shot a more dynamic picture. I do like that they let her natural hair and facial features shine through though.

  16. Amy says:

    GORGEOUS. Seriously. We can see all her bone structure and all her cocoa skin and all her fierceness! I love it! No ‘lighting’ magically changing the color of her skin tone either. Damn she’s pretty, that hair on my head by 5pm. Thank you.

  17. Josefa says:

    I like the picture, but the placement of the letters looks so bad. Serena’s face looks amazing, though! She’s got cheekbones to cut a bitch.

  18. Jess says:

    I love Serena and I love this photo of her. And kudos (for once) to Vogue!

  19. Lucy says:

    I think it’s a wonderful cover. She looks like herself.

  20. Lucilu says:

    She looks beautiful and fierce at the same time. As far as I’m concerned, she and her sister Venus are winners in life, and on the tennis court. Keep on making it do, what it do Serena!

  21. SK says:

    Her hair is AMAZING!! I wish she would wear it out like this more often.

    The dress and makeup are underwhelming.

    Serena is an incredible athlete. All the props to her!

  22. Ahot says:

    Can we talk about the fact that she showed that she is a bigger person then her racists haters? Mad respect to her

  23. Goodnight says:

    She looks absolutely gorgeous <3