Making Serena
An image of a young Serena Williams ScreenGrab from YouTube/Trans World Sport / Image by Laura Vergara
Making Serena
An image of a young Serena Williams ScreenGrab from YouTube/Trans World Sport / Image by Laura Vergara

Serena Williams is a household name. The recently retired tennis legend has won 23 Grand Slam titles – more than any player in the Open era. But before becoming one of the most dominant athletes of all-time, Serena was a girl from Compton with a dream.

In the Season 4 premiere of WBEZ’s Making podcast, host Brandon Pope revisits the years before anyone knew Serena’s name. Hear from the people in the room and on the court during her evolution to tennis prodigy, including her sister Isha Price, former tennis pro Chanda Rubin, and childhood coach Rick Macci.

Press play to hear the episode – or find it wherever you listen to podcasts.

This season of Making covers a different, iconic figure every week. Subscribe and don’t miss an episode.

Making Serena
An image of a young Serena Williams ScreenGrab from YouTube/Trans World Sport / Image by Laura Vergara
Making Serena
An image of a young Serena Williams ScreenGrab from YouTube/Trans World Sport / Image by Laura Vergara

Serena Williams is a household name. The recently retired tennis legend has won 23 Grand Slam titles – more than any player in the Open era. But before becoming one of the most dominant athletes of all-time, Serena was a girl from Compton with a dream.

In the Season 4 premiere of WBEZ’s Making podcast, host Brandon Pope revisits the years before anyone knew Serena’s name. Hear from the people in the room and on the court during her evolution to tennis prodigy, including her sister Isha Price, former tennis pro Chanda Rubin, and childhood coach Rick Macci.

Press play to hear the episode – or find it wherever you listen to podcasts.

This season of Making covers a different, iconic figure every week. Subscribe and don’t miss an episode.

ARCHIVE GAUFF: I grew up watching her, that’s the reason why I play tennis.

ARCHIVE BJK: You’ve touched our hearts and minds to use our voices, to dream big.

ARCHIVE GREENBERG: One of the greatest champions that our country has ever produced in any sport, to one of the most important players that any sport has ever had.

ARCHIVE GAUFF: There’s a reason why she’s the GOAT, because she’s the greatest of all time.

ARCHIVE BJK: And guess what, you’re just beginning!


Brandon Pope: From WBEZ Chicago, this is Making. I’m Brandon Pope. Today, Making Serena.

ARCHIVE: Oh no way! Serena bringing it! Game Williams. What a journey it’s been for Serena.

Brandon Pope: Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles, more than any other tennis player in the Open era. She holds a joint record of 186 consecutive weeks at No. 1. But more than the stats, Serena Williams has become a cultural icon that’s bigger than the game.

ARCHIVE: Very few players ever have an impact beyond their sport. Serena and her sister Venus, as much as anyone that I can think of in any sport, walked in a door that might not have otherwise existed. They built the door. 

Brandon Pope: From Compton California, to GOAT status, what were the “Making” years that define Serena Williams as one of the greatest athletes of all time.

ARCHIVE SERENA: I went on the courts with just a ball and a racket and a hope, and that’s all I had.


Brandon Pope: From WBEZ Chicago, this is Making. I'm Brandon Pope. Today, Serena Williams recently wrapped her tennis career at the U.S. Open, marking the end of an era for one of the most indomitable forces the sport has ever seen. In the wake of her evolution away from tennis, we're sitting down with three formative figures that witnessed her journey. With us is Rick Macci, renowned American tennis coach of the Rick Macci Tennis Academy in Florida. He coached Serena and Venus in the 90s before they went pro and as depicted in the Oscar nominated biopic King Richard. Rick, thanks for being here.

Rick Macci: Glad to be here. It'd be a lot of fun.

Brandon Pope: So I'm going to start with a little warm up question for you. Give us your favorite story from Serena's childhood.

Rick Macci: Well, I have a lot of them. Of her and VW. But to make it short and quick, the first time we did fitness – we have a big sandpit – and it was like 40 kids in there. And the first time she got in there, and it was her turn to tag someone, she literally tagged the person with a closed fist. And I said, whoa, whoa, whoa... Meek! I never called her Serena and I called her Meek. I said, you got to play with an open hand. You know, VW would have an open hand. And so, that just showed you how competitive she was. Maybe a little over the top. But as a coach, I kind of liked that at the time.

Brandon Pope: Oh man. She was so self assured. So confident.

Rick Macci: So confident. 

Brandon Pope: That's really good. Really good. 

Rick Macci: Like no other. 

Brandon Pope: Really cool to hear. Thank you Rick. Also with us is Serena's sister, Isha Price. Isha has produced several films celebrating the Williams sisters, including King Richard. Serena once described her as the caretaker of the five sisters. And she has been with Serena from day one. Isha, great to have you on the show.

Isha Price: Great to be here. Thanks so much Brandon.

Brandon Pope: Of course! Of course! Now Isha, there was a moment at the last U.S. Open when Serena was saying her goodbyes, and she was shouting out all her loved ones, the whole family, including you. Can you tell us what was going through your head during that moment?

Isha Price: It was mixed emotions. You know, it was like the end of something – like we're all going to miss her on the court. But there's a happiness and a joy there too. You know, when you're excited about what she's embarking upon for the future. So definitely mixed.

Brandon Pope: Yeah. Well, thank you for being here. And last but certainly not least, we have former world number six player Olympian and now broadcaster, Chanda Rubin, who is a friend of Serena's. She played her at her peak and has covered her extensive career. Chanda, we're happy to have you here.

Chanda Rubin: It's a pleasure. Really great to be joining you all and having this conversation.

Brandon Pope: Absolutely. Now, Chanda, can you tell us about the first time you played Serena? What were you feeling before and during that game?

Chanda Rubin: Well, I do remember the first time. You tend to remember having to go up against, you know, one of the all time greats. And I remember, you know, when I saw that she was my next round, feeling unsure a little bit. But also excited, because I think that the true mark for any player is to test yourself against, you know, the number one... Is to test yourself against the great players and to see where your game matches up. But it was also her mentality and her approach. And that's what I remember feeling more than anything. It was just smothering every single point. And you know, even winning points and winning games, it was tough for me to feel like I was really fully in the match. It felt like I was getting blown off the court.

Brandon Pope: The intensity, the fire, the passion. I just love hearing how it was... It was really always there. So now let's rewind to Compton, California.

Brandon Pope: Serena’s story begins before she was born, when her father Richard Williams had a dream.

ARCHIVE RICHARD CNN: What did you know about tennis? Nothing. Was it a sport that you watched a lot. No. You literally didn’t know anything about the sport? No. So how did you discover it? By watching television in Compton. And the TV we had did not have a remote control. And a guy called Bud Collins gave a girl named Virginia Rizik a check. I don’t remember how much the check was now, but I thought that is a hell of a lot of money for four days. I went to my wife and said we’re going to have two kids and become rich and they’re going to be tennis players. And she said, oh no. But we did, we had two kids. And I wrote an 85-page plan for Venus. I wrote a plan for Serena, on what I wished to do and how it would be done. 

Brandon Pope: And his plan took off.


Brandon Pope: Richard says Serena first picked up a racket when she was three years old. Serena says it was as early as 18 months. He coached the girls hard. 

ARCHIVE RICHARD COACHING: Good racket speed, good racket speed, Venus. Keep that racket head up.

ARCHIVE RICHARD: If you down your face flat like a 97-year-old person, you’ll never be a tennis player!

ARCHIVE RICHARD AND V/S: How do you feel about the way you’re hitting the ball right now? Good, Daddy. How about your feet. Your feet moving away? No, Daddy. How about yours? Yes, Daddy.

Brandon Pope: And he was convinced they were the next greats. His instincts would prove right of course, but in these early days, his confident attitude made them notorious.

ARCHIVE DOCUMENTARY: The Williams sisters are not well-liked by their competitors. 

Brandon Pope: He sent tape after tape to the greatest coaches around the country, and finally caught the attention of Rick Macci. 

ARCHIVE MACCI: Think athletic ability has a lot to do with the game. 

Brandon Pope: Macci flew to Compton and he was sold. He moved the whole Williams family to Boca Raton, Florida. Macci rented the family a house and gave them everything they needed: health insurance, a dog, a new Aerostar van, even annual passes to Disney World. And while the sisters both trained intensely, Venus outshined.

ARCHIVE ESPN: From all over the planet, they have come to get a look at Venus. 

Brandon Pope: But little Serena was there too, taking stock. She trained, took note of Venus’s faulty strokes and made plans of her own. 

ARCHIVE: If you were a tennis player who would you want to be like? Well, I'd like other people to be like me. *laughs* That’s a good answer. 


Brandon Pope: Love hearing in that footage there. So Isha, take us back to those early days of Venus and Serena's childhood. You, you're all piling in this van. Five kids, Richard's taking them to school, tennis practice. What were those journeys like?

Isha Price: Um, you know, it was just... It was life. It was you know... Oftentimes, it would be my mom, she would take us to school, drop us off, get picked up and come home from school, go to the tennis court. He will let us go to the... He called it the sandpile, which is like a playground. And so you know, obviously you get to an age where you don't want to go to the sand pile anymore. But we always had to go, because Venus and Serena enjoyed that. And so that was pretty much a day in the life of us.

Brandon Pope: What was it like growing up in Compton, California back then.

Isha Price: It's... it's hard for me to kind of describe to people, because everybody grew up somewhere. You know? I didn't really think of Compton as this really terrible place. You know, it was home. There were things about it that, you know, were less than ideal. I remember we had graffiti on our house. And I remember asking my mom, I'm like, man, like why can't we just paint? Like, we cleaned up the backyard. We did all the things, and Daddy never painted the front of the house. And I could not understand. 

When I was older finally, you know, I asked him directly and he said, you know, this will help you to be strong. You know, it doesn't matter what people say about you, what they say about your house, what they say about like, where you grew up, you should be proud of where you come from no matter where that is, because where you come from is really within you. You know? So, it was like that growing up. It was a lesson behind everything. Our house was very loving, and we had a ton of fun. And even though to the outside world, it was obviously very strange. There were gang members and stuff that used to live across the street, they would, you know, they sold drugs. It just was what it was, it was Compton. And we knew them all by name. 

But we knew that we wanted something more obviously, we liked the Cosby's, we liked the shows that were on television. We wanted to aspire to more and different and not be there. And I remember when we finally left, we all kind of made this pact to not have to go back. Like if we went back, it will be on our own terms. And that's what we've been able to do.

Brandon Pope: Now Rick, how did the Williams convince you to come out to Compton in the first place? 

Rick Macci: I actually got a phone call. And it was from Richard. You know, he told me I have two daughters, Venus and Serena. They're really good. And you know, do you want to come to Compton? For whatever reason and obviously looking back – I'm probably the only guy in the world saying their best vacation ever is Compton, California – that I just decided to go out and take a look. I never did it before, and I haven't done it since. I went out there, and that night met at the hotel room. Venus, Serena, Oracene and Richard come to the hotel room, Venus on one leg, Serena on the other. And then Richard, he pulls out a piece of paper, and he starts grilling me. I thought it was in a deposition. 

So then the next day he goes, we're going to pick you up at seven o'clock and we're going to East Compton Hills Country Club. So at seven o'clock, they picked me up in that bus. Okay, not a van. I get in the passenger side. Listen to this. I get harpooned in the buttock by a spring. I look in the back, there's garbage, ball hoppers, all kinds of dirty laundry. And Meek and Venus are back there all scrunched up. So about 15 minutes into the ride, I'm looking around, and I'm going, this is a strange place for a country club. We pull up to a park. There's guys playing basketball, about 20 guys. People are passed out, smoking, drinking. And they see Richard, they go, "hey, King Richard." They call this guy King Richard in '91. So we go across the basketball court. It parts like the Red Sea. It was like they were celebrities. You know, like it was this craziest thing. 

We go on to the court. So then we started drilling. Now, here's VW and Meek – arms, legs, hair flying everywhere, beads are coming off their head. And I'm going, what in God's name am I doing in Compton, California. It was like out of control. Then I said let's play competitive points. So once we started playing competitive points, the whole landscape changed. The movement was just crazy. They start popping the popcorn, extra butter. The preparation got better, but the burning desire of both girls to get to the ball. They ran so hard, Brandon. Their nose was almost on the ground. I never saw anything like it. And I just saw something I never saw on the inside. And I went to Richard, I said, Richard, come here. And it's more about VW at that time. I said, you got the next female Michael Jordan on your hand. And he puts his arm around me. And he goes, no, brother man, I got the next two.

Brandon Pope: Man, that hustle, that effort, that drive. I love hearing stories like that. Chanda, you know, a famous part of this beginning stages Serena's career is that Richard Williams, he was really protective of his girls. He didn't let them participate in juniors or go pro until late in the game. What do you make of that strategic move? Did that affect their skill level? Or did that set them back at all?

Chanda Rubin: You know, I think... You know, in hindsight, it was an incredibly smart move. And because I came up in the junior system, it was naturally expected that Venus and Serena should be playing junior tournaments. Who were they to not go through the system that every all time great went through to a certain degree? But in hindsight, it was... It was a good move, because I think it, number one, has given us the longevity that we've seen in Venus and Serena. I think it also allowed them to be out there as more of a team. 

You know, when you're going through juniors and you're competing in some of the same tournaments or in the same circuit. You know, it's a different type of competitiveness that comes out and I think, you know, all of the positive things that we would eventually see in Venus and Serena, a lot of it was because of that base they had. You know, they were focused on the long game. They were focused on developing complete games for a professional player, not necessarily a junior player. And so I think all of those things contributed, you know, to the successes that we saw.

Brandon Pope: It worked out pretty well, right?

Chanda Rubin: Exactly. 

Brandon Pope: Now, Rick, there are so many players and coaches throughout the years that they've said, Venus is good, but the younger one has the drive. What is it that you saw in Serena. Did she have an "it" factor?

Rick Macci: Both the girls have it, you know? And I mean, I think Venus could have been maybe even better. I know that sounds crazy, but that's a different discussion. But the one thing about Serena, the more intense it got, the more competitive. She went deeper. And that separates great from good. 


Rick Macci: One thing I did see, at a young age, she kind of knew where you were going to hit the ball before you did. And that was innate, and it looked like she had all the time in the world. But the competitiveness even in practice, when she was playing guys, she just felt she never lost, she ran out of time. That's the way she thought. But her confidence and belief... It's one thing to hope to win. She expected the win.



Brandon Pope: Serena was just 14 years old when she made her professional debut, at the Bell Challenge in Quebec. She lost in less than an hour.

Over the next few years, both Williams sisters faced the best players in the world. By July 1999, Venus was ranked fourth in the world – Serena was 11th. But neither had clinched a Grand Slam title at the US Open. That year, all bets were on Venus to win the first. But those bets were wrong.

ARCHIVE: Game, set, match, Hingus! 

Brandon Pope: Venus lost to Martina Hingus. But then, Martina Hingus lost to Serena. 

ARCHIVE: *sound of hitting* *you hear Serena win* Game, set, championship, Williams. Ladies and Gentlemen, the 1999 US Open Women’s singles champion, Serena Williams!


Brandon Pope: At only age 17, Serena Williams became the first Black woman to win a Grand Slam event since Althea Gibson in 1956. The Williams sisters were on top of the tennis world. Then in 2001, it felt as if the tennis world was pushing back. 


ARCHIVE: Still some boos but perhaps not as many as expected. But it has not been a pleasurable experience being at this court this afternoon.

Brandon Pope: At the Indian Wells Open, when Venus withdrew ahead of her semifinal match against Serena – allowing Serena to walk into the final — the crowd called foul. Richard and both sisters were accused of match fixing. Serena rallied to win the championship, but that did not stop the boos. 

ARCHIVE: Well, I think that’s pretty bad. You know she’s got through so well to win this match, got herself together. Well, she knows her family supports her.

Brandon Pope: Richard Williams says he was attacked with racial slurs. The sisters vowed to never return. But after that notorious incident, Serena goes on a tear.


ARCHIVE FRENCH 2002: What a great point to end it, and baby sis has finally won!

Brandon Pope: The Italian Open. Then the French.

ARCHIVE FRENCH 2002: Serena Williams!

Brandon Pope: Then, Wimbledon.

ARCHIVE WIMBLEDON 2002: Game, set, match, Serena Williams. Two sets to love. It’s Serena’s day.

Brandon Pope: Then, The US and Australian Opens.

ARCHIVE US OPEN 2002: There it is Serena Williams! The seventh player in tennis history to win three consecutive Grand Slam titles. She is the 2002 US Open Champion and remains the No. 1 player in the world.

Brandon Pope: Serena was 21 years old, and she held all four major titles, not in the same calendar year. They dubbed it "The Serena Slam." And to win it, she had to beat her sister in all four finals.

ARCHIVE VENUS: You know I wish I could have been the winner today, but of course now you have a great champion, Serena. And now she has won all four Grand Slams which is something I’d love to do one day. So yeah, just trying to be just like her.

Brandon Pope: Now, she's not just another skilled kid with a top rank. She's a force that's changing the game. She's out of her sister's shadow. And she's just getting started.


Brandon Pope: So we just covered a wide portion of Serena's career, but Isha, I'd like to ask you about some of their first teenage tournaments. Now, during this period of time, you were with Serena in the stands, watching Venus take home trophies. What was going through Serena's head during this time?

Isha Price: So One of the things that happened back in the day, when she played that first tournament in Quebec, she decided that she wasn't ready to be pro. And so she went on the road. And she she flew to where Venus was. Let me story of Venus was like, Well, what happened? And she was like, I'm not ready to be pro, I'm going to be you're hitting partner. And that's what's getting ready to go down because clearly, I don't know what I'm doing. And, and that's what she did for a long time and just did the grind and did everything necessary.

Brandon Pope: Now, Chanda, you played Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2002. She beats you 6-3, 6-3. Can you tell us a little bit about what Serena brought to the court at that tournament? And what made her such a formidable opponent?

Chanda Rubin: I think what made Serena so tough, especially on grass at Wimbledon, was the complete game that she had, you know, and you think about you think about playing on grass. And most times, you know, we think oh, players have to be aggressive, they've got to come in, they've got to be serving and volleying, at least at that time. Well, Serena, she didn't have to play a certain way. She just played her game, she had the serve, you know, she could return and really make you feel her presence. You know, she had good height. But she was also quick, and was a good mover and, you know, an economical mover. And so you didn't really feel like you had any space to hit into. And that was the feeling for me being on the other side of the court against her. 

And, you know, we talked so much about her served being one of the greatest serves, you know, in the history of the women's game, you know, if not the greatest. And it was so good because she could hit to every single spot in the service box. She could hit out wide, she could hit up the tee, she could go into the body. Those are kind of the primary three, but she could do it with the same look with the same toss. So you couldn't read it. And so it was it was the sum total of her game and what she brought to the court. So even if you were a good returner like I was, how do you how do you make inroads into that kind of service game?

Brandon Pope: Wow, I've never heard that analyzed like that before. In terms of like, how she was just kind of tough to read, if you're playing her. that makes it a really tough match for sure. Rick, can you dissect for me how Serena dominated all these major tournaments in 2002 and 2003?

Rick Macci: Well, you know, it's it's a, it's a total package that you got, you know? She could play through you. And as she got more confident, she would just take the ball, she could literally play through you. And other players on the tour, knew that. Even if she was the underdog when she was little, but her firepower to take the ball early, hold serve, take advantage of your second serve, the angles that she could hit. And people don't talk about this enough off both wings with quality. Once she opened up the court like the Red Sea, she could just take the next one early. And that's what this is all about opening up the cord and people just see the power the raw power Serena. She's very smart too.

Brandon Pope: Now Isha, there was a time where Venus and Serena had to play each other. What was it like for you and the family and Richard, especially in those finals of a major tournament, to to see your sisters go at it?

Isha Price: It was the worst feeling and the best feeling. You know, it was it was really tough. Like, you know, I remember the first time it happened, and we were like, okay, so how do we do this? And we're like, we're just gonna go out. And it was like, we'll just clap for the good points, you know? Because like, what else do you do? You know what I mean? You try to applaud the good points, but you're feeling some kind of way. And then it got to the point where we just, it was too hard. So we wouldn't go. 

And the last time this happened was 2017. And I was the only one there I was, it was in Australia. It was funny, because by this time, I guess they knew and the hotel said, we have a little room for you. So you can go and you can sit in there, and if you want, and you can watch there, if you're not gonna go on site, and I was like, Yeah, I'm not going on site. So I have this whole room, essentially, to myself. And it's the same feeling you feel such a joy because you're like, Okay, this is what we wanted, right? Like, we wanted them to both get there to get to those finals, to be able to, to compete against one another, like, that's what we want it. 

But it's just so tough, because you want it for both of them so badly. And you know that at the end, there's only going to be one winner. But then you definitely feel like we've already won, but it is very, very challenging, especially for my mom and my dad. It was weird, because sometimes we would be the only people in the in the player area. You know, so it was sometimes a little weird. But also challenging. But also joyous, again bittersweet.

Rick Macci: Brandon, if I can interject real quick, each had to watch this 31 times. That's how many times they played. And when it's all said and done. And Isha knows this, the Williams family won, even though there was an official winner. They won, you know, and that's, that's all the takeaway, because there are two peas in a pod and sisters like no other on the court competitive, but once it was over, and they were skipping and holding hands at age nine, and they're still doing at age 40. 

Brandon Pope: So I do want to rewind a bit, I  want to talk a little bit about what happened at Indian Wells. Isha, what was the family feeling coming off that tournament?

Isha Price: Incredibly hurt. You know, this was considered our like home tournament. And we felt that the tournament itself didn't do a better job of protecting because there are steps that have to be taken if something like this happens, and I think for a long time, you know, something like that affects you because obviously we don't look like everyone else. Serena didn't look like everyone else. And crying in her towel in between changeovers. Something that we just didn't do. She just didn't do. 

And one of the things I remember the most is what she said, you know, after like, I was crying, that doesn't mean much. Because I cry all the time. Everybody will tell you, my sisters will tell you, it's terrible. I am the cry baby and my family. But after when she was doing the on court interview, she said something to the effect of and even those of you who are booing, thank you too. You know, because like, at some point, you have to set you know, she was like, I appreciate everybody who's out here, you know, like I in a way I forgive you for what you're doing. But it was hard for a long time to forgive that moment. But we made the decision as a family after that, that we would always have some presence. Because we definitely felt after that, it was us against the world. I think we got lulled into a false sense of security, like, everybody loves us. It's great. You know, like, everything is great and then it became like a reality check


Brandon Pope: The next decade sees a rocky road for Serena. Soon after her first Serena Slam, her oldest sister, Yetunde Price, is killed in Compton, an innocent bystander in an attack of gang violence. Serena continued to rack up Grand Slam titles, but she’s distracted. 

ARCHIVE AP: Serena Williams is hospitalized in Los Angeles after having emergency treatment for a blood clot in her lungs.

Brandon Pope: Every few years, she’s hit with a knee injury, a tendon tear and even a pulmonary embolism that takes her out of the game. Her year-end rank in 2006 dropped to 95, her lowest since 1997. Then, in 2012, following a dramatic loss in the first round of the French Open, she reached out to French coach Patrick Mouratoglou.


ARCHIVE PATRICK: Something was wrong, really clearly. I watched a match and that’s it. She was struggling to going back to winning a Grand Slam and it was affecting her. Even the way she was thinking, she was not thinking like Serena.

Brandon Pope: They focused on her serve, and then, she was back. 


Brandon Pope: She won Wimbledon. A year later, the US Open. She was 31, the oldest player ever ranked No. 1. And then a few years later, she completed her second "Serena Slam."

ARCHIVE SERENA: I have grown tremendously as a tennis player, and more importantly as a human being.

Brandon Pope: And with that comeback, she solidified her status as an all-time great.


Brandon Pope: Now Chanda, I'm going to start with you here Serena is ranking drops down to 95th. Can you kind of break down for me how she rebounded from all those serious injuries, especially as an athlete mentally and physically? What does it take?

Chanda Rubin: You know, I think that's one of the toughest parts of being an athlete and having, you know, a long career having the longevity. And, you know, maybe the the casual fan doesn't think about because when they see players winning, you know, they're - they look healthy, they seem like everything is you know, firing and, it's almost like it was it was meant to be in that moment. But there are a lot of tough times that go into getting on to court and being in that position. 

And when, I think for Serena, it was dealing with all of those injuries and, you know, trying at a certain point to re motivate herself. And so for me, what was most impressive about Serena, is the way she did recommit after, you know, losing first round of the French Open in 2012. I think that was a real catalyst for her, you know, there's a moment for every player at a certain point where you go, Okay, I'm not supposed to lose that match. And even if I lose that match, I'm not supposed to lose that match that way. And I have to change, I have to you know, do something completely different. So when she came right back and won at Wimbledon, after losing first round, the French Open, you kind of knew, Serena is back. 

Brandon Pope: Rick, can you analyze for me how Serena has game changed over the years, specifically during the late 2000s? What did she change in that? Post 2012 run?

Rick Macci: Well, I don't know if she changed a lot. But at the end of the day, through all the injuries and everything that happened, you don't lose the ability. You don't lose the Compton street fight. You don't lose the firepower. You don't lose the surf. She never lost anything. Whether you're a basketball player, any sport injuries, that changes the landscape and like Chandra said, you know you don't have the confidence because you're not playing all the time. But once she won Wimbledon, it just showed her again, she wasn't that far gone. the number 90 whatever is irrelevant. She never lost anything. It says that the injury set her back. And then once she got on a mission, and she got the confidence back, okay, she just took off and never looked back.

Brandon Pope: Isha, what were your thoughts on this period for Serena and you know, what was the family's perspective?

Isha Price: It was just tough to watch. And to see her go through that. You know, it does get to a point where you're like, your life is way more important than this, then this game, you know. And the pulmonary embolisms were really hard for us, because she almost lost her life. And so then it becomes like, okay, everything being in perspective, you know, you hone in on what's more important, you know, and that's what we did, you know. Just kind of, it did take her away from the game and, and there was a reevaluation that she had to do in terms of like, what do you want to do? How do you want to handle this? And it was scary, you know, for us, because we're like you, you don't have to do anything else in a sport like, you know, you can walk away now. It's great, it's fine. 

But that's not what she wanted to do. She wanted to do it on her terms. We had gone to Africa. And, you know, you go to Africa, and it definitely changes you. She made this decision. And she said, you know, it doesn't matter. Because of where I come from, and what I know, exists inside me. You know, she was like, like, we made it to the diaspora across this triangular trade. Like, you know, all - some people didn't make it, but like our ancestors made it - because look, I'm here. So I'm going to do the best I can with what I got.


Brandon Pope: Well, those were what we call the "Making" years for Serena Williams. But before we go, I do want to talk about her as a cultural figure. And her larger legacy. A lot of her fans say she's not just great because of her records, but because of what she's done for the game of tennis. So Isha, I'm going to start with you. I know. Tough question. But what do you think people mean by that, when they say that Serena Williams changed the game?

Isha Price: That is a tough question. I - you know, I definitely think that if I had to choose one thing, I would say it was just her lion-like desire to never lose. It wasn't really for her. It wasn't about winning. I mean, she loved to win. Don't get me wrong, but it was literally - she just hated losing. She hated losing more than than loving winning. But yeah, tough question for me.

Brandon Pope: Understandable, Chanda, how about you? What is Serena Williams' tennis legacy?

Chanda Rubin: I think for me, you know, it's almost full circle. I mean, you think about what draws us to players, whether it's how dynamic they are, whether it's how they play the game, whether we enjoy just watching them play and compete. And Serena, as a young champion really brought a lot of people into the sport, drew a lot of people in and also, part of her legacy is, also creating change in the sport, changes in the game. The Power Tennis that she brought to the forefront along with Venus, you know, the Power Tennis was what players had to measure up against, and measure their games against. And so, you know, she literally made other players better. So that is a huge part of her legacy. 

I think another part was just how she pushed the envelope on and off the court. And you talked about on the court with her tennis, but also the fashion part and the outfits and, you know, just being bold and being herself and showing a bit of her personality, just in how she walked out onto court. That's part of her legacy. I mean, we have so many pictures of her in these iconic outfits, and, you know, people's, you know, people's real visceral response in so many cases, you know, was a special thing. It drew you in to her tennis in an entirely different way. 

And then we look now at how she has played, you know, well into her 40s. That was unheard of and to still be playing the type of tennis that the high level tennis playing, vying for Grand Slam titles. After a mom, still playing in four major finals. I mean, it's a credible. So that's a whole different part of her legacy. So for me, it's all of these different factors. And it's all part of this one person, and we get to watch her kind of post tennis, you know, career, see what she does in the business world, see what she continues to create, and how she continues to influence and build her legacy. So I think it's not over yet. 

Brandon Pope: All right, Rick, you're not off the hook.

Rick Macci: No, no, listen, you know, before I elaborate on that, we got to go back down memory lane, you know, when the kids were little, and I think anybody listening to this, every single night, when they left the court, they would say, Rick, thank you very much. Every night, and I don't, I don't see that a lot these days. And every day, they brought their books to the court. And when it rained, Richard told him to go up to my office and study. These are the life lessons that Richard and Oracene, you know, instilled in the kids.

But her legacy, you know, she showed in a women's tennis or just Women's Athletic, you can really show your emotions on the core. And that rage and the fist pump and bringing the knee up, and she just carried herself different. But she said that's okay to be like that. And maybe some people didn't like it, but that's just how she was wired. And then - then, how she carried herself and brought in so many people, not just from the African American community, but look where they came from: Compton. She wasn't in the front row, the back row, she wasn't even in the building, okay, you know, I can do it. You can do it that has nothing to do with tennis. I mean, it's just a story you can't make up and you know, she's out in front, going down is the greatest of all time, not just tennis player, I think one of the greatest athletes of all time. at the end of the day, her ripple effect is catastrophic, but I think her best act is yet to come. I think she has a platform and a brand like no other. You know, and I think that we're gonna see the best to Serena yet to come if that's possible.


Brandon Pope: This has been Making Serena. Special thanks to Rick Macci, Chanda Rubin, and Isha Price. And thank you all for listening.


Brandon Pope: Making Serena was produced by Heena Srivastava and Justin Bull. I’m your host Brandon Pope. Our executive producer is Kevin Dawson. A special thanks going out to Cecil Harris and Gerald Marzorati for help on the show. More episodes are on the way. Be sure to press the subscribe button. And we’ll see you next week.

WBEZ transcripts are generated by an automatic speech recognition service. We do our best to edit for misspellings and typos, but mistakes do come through.