Most players would be content to rest the day before a big match, but not Serena Williams. The 23-times Grand Slam champion said she had to step in to avert an “emergency” at her clothing line on Saturday, a day ahead of her Australian Open last 16 match against Aryna Sabalenka.
Williams, who beat the Belarusian 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals, said the situation was “so crazy”. “As CEO, I had to kind of step up a little bit. I was on the phone with our designer making final orders and deciding how much fabric we need for our new collection,” she added.
“It was almost a mind trip because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! We have to play tomorrow but we’ve got to get this done. Business keeps going.’”
Williams has earned about $94m in career prize money and is also an investor in more than 50 startups, focusing on firms started by women and minorities. Finding time for two careers as well as her daughter, Alexis Olympia, can be challenging, she said.
“I scheduled the call directly after my practice,” she added. “I was like, ‘OK, I can do it early and still have the rest of the day to relax.’ And it was during Olympia’s nap, so it was perfect. Tennis is a lot less stressful.
“I think a part of me loves being on the court because it’s free-flowing. It’s not like I have to kind of just manage and make sure everyone is able to perform. But that’s what I do. I have a second career, and it’s fun.”
On the subject of her battling win over Sabalenka, Williams said: “I just felt like even games that I lost, I was so close to winning. Not all games, but probably most of those games. I just needed to play better on the big points. I knew that I could. I still hadn’t reached my peak. I was like, ‘OK, Serena, you got this, just keep going’.”
Earlier, the title favourite Naomi Osaka hung on by the skin of her teeth, saving two match points on her way to a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Garbiñe Muguruza, who was full of confidence after a strong start to the season. The Spaniard led by a set and a break and held two match points at 5-3 in the deciding set only for Osaka, the 2019 champion in Melbourne, to pull through with a run of four games in a row.
Asked how she had dug herself out of trouble, the Japanese star said: “I’m not really sure, to be honest. I was just trying to fight for every point, then it sort of led me to win.
“On the first match point, I was just thinking that I didn’t hit a decent serve that entire game, so I should really focus on my serve. I feel like my serve stats were pretty good that set, so I was just telling myself to do better.
“Then on the second point, when the rally started, I just told myself not to push (the ball) but also don’t do something crazy and make a really bad unforced error.”
Osaka also credited a brief moment of temper for clearing her mind, saying: “I felt the entire match I was overthinking. There was a moment when I got angry and hit my racquet on the ground. I feel like I released a lot of the thoughts that I had. It just made me go more into instinct-based tennis.”
Osaka will next face the highly unconventional Hsieh Su-wei, who at 35 became the oldest player to reach a first slam quarter-final in the Open era with a 6-4 6-2 victory over Marketa Vondrousova.