LONDON — Serena Williams says she has no plans to end her fight for equality any time soon after a question from a reporter invoked Billie Jean King’s concerns on Williams’ dedication to tennis.
After her third straight Grand Slam final defeat Saturday, Williams was asked in her postmatch news conference whether she should focus on tennis over being a celebrity or fighting for equality.
“The day I stop fighting for equality and for people that look like you and me will be the day I’m in my grave,” Williams responded.
King later tweeted to clarify her views, saying she supported the work Williams did to push for equality.
I would never ask anyone to stop fighting for equality. In everything she does, Serena shines a light on what all of us must fight for in order to achieve equality for all.
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) July 13, 2019
King spoke to the BBC mid-Wimbledon about wanting to see Williams focus more on her on-court prospects than trying to juggle everything else.
“You never count her out. Every time she wins one more match helps. Quite frankly, if I were Serena, I would give up being a celebrity for a year and a half,” King said. “If she wants to win titles, if she wants to beat records, that’s the question. I don’t know what she wants. No more Met Galas. Just stop all this insanity because she is trying to be everything.
“Especially at her age, you have to give up all these peripheral things, if you want to do this. If she is quite happy the way she is, then fine. I think she really needs to continue working on her fitness and get refocused if she wants to beat all these records, like Margaret Court’s singles record of 24.”
King also addressed Williams’ busy schedule beyond tennis prior to the tournament.
“She’s got a baby, she’s trying to help gender equity, particularly women of color. But it makes it much harder,” King said. “I would like her to put everything else aside, because she’s got people working on those things. I wish she would just make a commitment for the next year and a half to two years and say, I’m going to absolutely focus on what’s necessary for my tennis, so when I look in the mirror when I’m older, then I can go back in my mind and know I gave it everything I had.”
In her news conference, Williams acknowledged her path toward matching Court’s Grand Slam record, saying having a baby “definitely plays a little bit into it.” She said she hoped to play more tournaments and reach more tour finals to help her prepare for the biggest stages.
ESPN’s Tom Hamilton contributed to this report.