In a much-hyped and long-awaited interview with Lisa Wilkinson, tennis champ Serena Williams has refused to comment on Australian cartoonist Mark Knight’s allegedly racist depiction of her.
Wilkinson revealed to The Project viewers on Sunday night that publicists had threatened that Williams, 36, would have “got up and walked out” if she was asked about the controversial cartoon published by The Herald Sun.
So Wilkinson didn’t.
“I know that would have been great tabloid TV to have her walk off, but I was actually more interested in her answers to the US Open questions,” she told viewers.
Even on this touchy topic – Williams’ tirade at the grand slam umpire – questions were restricted to just four.
Williams showed clear frustration when asked about the admission made by her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, that he was coaching from the sidelines, in breach of the rules.
“I just don’t understand what he was talking because I asked him … And he said he made a motion,” she said.
“OK, so you made a motion and now you’re telling people you were coaching. OK.”
But when Wilkinson pushed on whether she was proud of smashing her racquet in frustration after copping the coaching violation penalty, the tennis champ went quiet and looked over at her publicist to intervene.
“I’m totally in your hands, Serena,” Wilkinson said, in the pre-recorded footage.
As it looked like the interview was going sideways, Wilkinson managed to slip in an extra question – a prompt for Williams to comment on female tennis legends Billie Jean King, who had supported her after the US Open, and Martina Navratilova, who had not.
Williams praised King but was silent on Navratilova.
“I honestly am just always supportive of women no matter what. That’s just how I am,” she said.
Women “should be able to do even half of what men are able to do” including getting angry “without using profanity”, she said.
She added that she “just trying to recover” from the US Open fallout.
Earlier in the interview, Williams said she had been leaning on the support of her good friend, Meghan Markle.
Williams, who attended Meghan’s wedding to Prince Harry, said they had been “friends for a long time” and had been “relying on each other recently” to deal with intense media scrutiny.
Despite being filmed weeks ago, soon after the US Open, The Project agreed to an embargo imposed by publicists. The interview had been arranged to coincide with breast cancer awareness month in the US, which starts on October 1.
Apart from her strict media conditions, the only other big revelation to come out of the interview was that Serena Williams can sing.
A breast cancer awareness ad featuring Williams – in the nude – singing I Touch Myself by the Divinyls will air soon.
Tennis fans have been deeply split over whether Williams was justified for calling the US Open umpire a “liar” and a “thief” and accusing him of sexism for penalising her for coaching from the sidelines, verbal abuse, and smashing her racquet.
Williams was defeated by Naomi Osaka in straight sets, 6-2 6-4. It was Osaka’s first grand slam singles title.
Williams told The Project it had been “really tough for coming back from motherhood”. She gave birth to a daughter, Alexis, in September last year.
It was “heart-wrenching” to leave her daughter behind to go to work, she said.
Williams also confirmed that the tutu she wore to earlier rounds of the US Open was indeed a retort to tennis bosses who had barred her from wearing her black Nike catsuit.
A frilly tutu, complete with a twirl, was the “perfect answer”.