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Venus Williams

The world had heard about her and her sister, but in 1997, the hype became reality. Playing in her first U.S. Open at 17, unseeded Venus Williams climbed through the draw to reach her first Grand Slam final. Although Williams fell to No. 1 seed Martina Hingis, the legend of the Williams Sisters officially began. Venus reached the semifinals in 1998, Serena won the whole thing in 1999, Venus won in 2000 and then two split finals against each other with Venus winning in 2001 and Serena in 2002. Together, they've won 30 Grand Slams, reached 46 Grand Slam finals and held the world No. 1 ranking 330 total weeks. And we haven't even mentioned doubles. Venus is still grinding away at 38. She reached the final at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2017, along with the semifinals at the U.S. Open, but in 2018, she has failed to get out of the third round of a major. Perhaps the fans in Queens can spark her. Even 21 years after that first final, Venus still finds new ways to feed off the New York crowd. She talked about that and more, speaking on behalf of American Express in the lead-up to the U.S. Open.

ThePostGame: First things first, you're working with American Express. I see a picture of you swinging a racket in front of a green screen, but what exactly are you doing with them?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Yes, so it's called augmented reality, and this is a super rally game that we're going to debut at the U.S. Open so I had the opportunity to learn about it and to experience augmented reality. I haven't actually played the game yet, but I had a little bit of a tour. I am actually going to be teaching everyone at the U.S. Open how to play this game, giving them the tutorial and then the first thing I'm gonna do when I walk the grounds on Thursday is not go to practice and go to the augmented reality at the U.S. Open. American Express has also created a wristband that allows cardmembers to pay for purchases and unlock a lot of unique benefits. 

TPG: Well, I hear you talking about augmented reality, it's 2018 and you started playing this tournament in 1997. I think we were just past "Pong" in video games back then.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, there was this movie called "The Lawnmower Man" and that seemed really amazing and now that's considered like Grade F. It's amazing technology.

TPG: How long ago does 1997 feel?
WILLIAMS: It doesn't feel like that long ago, and I definitely still feel like a kid at heart. I've been able to live my dream and that's been the best part of it all, but it really feels like it's gone by so fast.

TPG: Obviously a lot of people knew about you and your sister coming up, but that 1997 tournament, your first U.S. Open, when you made the final, do you remember the crowd kind of getting to know you as that tournament progressed?
WILLIAMS: There was a lot of stuff going on at that tournament, I got to be honest. But it was a great experience, I learned a lot, and I'm continuing to learn, and that's the best part, you can play and it's always a challenge because there's so much to get better at, so all these years later, I'm still a student of the game.

TPG: 21 year later, you mention it's your favorite tournament. How do you still get excited about the U.S. Open?
WILLIAMS: Oh, it's pretty easy. I don't know if you've been to the grounds, but when you walk on, you get there and your focus is all about trying to be your best. You know that your opponent is not going to take it easy on you, so that itself gets you ready to go because it's literally a fight out there. It's beautiful and it's what you train for.

TPG: I'm from New York so I've been going my whole life. You're not necessarily from New York, but it feels like every time you go, the crowd gravitates towards you. What is it about those fans that you've made a connection with over the years?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think definitely over the years it's been building a relationship with the fans and it's wonderful to hear that whole crowd get behind you through thick and thin, not only when it's going well, but also when it's going bad and all you want to do is make that happen for them.

TPG: A year ago, you made it all the way to the semifinals. You hadn't made it that far in seven years. How did you feel the crowd felt your success and kind of pushed you and kept you going?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, it pushed me to that very last moment and I played a great match and happened to get a little bit unlucky and that's sports. That's why you get another chance to come back. It was a wonderful experience and I'll have it as a great memory from last year.

TPG: At this point, you're 38 years old, you've made so much money, you continue to find success on the court, but what are some of the things that keep driving you in this sport? Is it to build a legacy? Is it love of the game? What keeps you going?
WILLIAMS: Just knowing that you have a lot to give and that's it.

TPG: You've accomplished so much in the sport not just on the court, but from equal pay and from coming over illness. What do you take more pride in, the actual on-the-court victories and major titles or some of the things that you've done off the court to inspire people?
WILLIAMS: I think that's one thing I'm learning to do is to take pride, and I'm very obviously hard-working, but I'm always focusing on the future and I don't especially think about any accomplishments. So I think I want progress and to look back and maybe say, "Wow, good job." But all I can think about is how to get better.

TPG: Would you say that you love tennis even more now than you did in say, your 20s?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think so. You have to because it's a lot of work. To continue that amount of work, you have to have love. I'm gonna be here and then when I'm not here, I'm gonna move forward, but for now, I'm very much in the mix.

TPG: Do you feel like you have to put in even more work now to be a top player or you're on cruise control because you've just been doing it for so long?
WILLIAMS: No, definitely not more work, I think that actually maybe a little less work because you've been playing so long, so you wanna stay fresh, so in that way, it's about finding a balance, but I do love putting in the work, so I'm trying to find that balance day-to-day.

TPG: The U.S. Open, Billie Jean King will become a face of the tournament again -- the grounds are named after her -- the movie came out last year about everything and it feels like young people are just getting to know Billie Jean better now. How has she been an inspiration to you and how have you guys had a relationship over the years?
WILLIAMS: She spearheaded the start of the WTA Tour, so obviously every single player who's played a tour match is indebted to her efforts and I've had the opportunity to play under her at the Olympics. Her passion and her energy is just contagious, so I love what she's done not only for women's tennis, but for people in general for equality.

TPG: Are you and Serena playing doubles this U.S. Open?
WILLIAMS: Oh no, we haven't even talked about it. We want to play all the majors. We definitely want to play, but it's a lot of energy. Maybe next year.

TPG: Yeah, well, maybe next year. You guys are playing great singles and you can keep playing singles for a while, but could we see you both playing doubles until say, you're 50?
WILLIAMS: I don't know, we haven’t talked about that. Maybe 65? (Laughs) I don't know though.

Venus Williams spoke to ThePostGame on behalf of American Express. On the grounds at the U.S. Open, fans can participate in the American Express Super Rally, challenging a virtual version of Williams.

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