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Serena Williams: America must 'pull together' in scary times

Star says it "hasn't been easy" since sister Venus diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome

Rachel Nichols and Chris Borg | 8/20/2015, 9:45 a.m.
She stands on the brink of writing another chapter in tennis history, but Serena Williams has other things on her ...
Serena Williams speaks to CNN on the red carpet of the 2011 Essence Black Women of Hollywood Awards. CNN

— She stands on the brink of writing another chapter in tennis history, but Serena Williams has other things on her mind just now.

Police violence, college studies, her sister's health, the rise of female role models in society -- the American has plenty to distract her as she plots her title defense at Flushing Meadows.

One of the biggest stars the game has ever seen will become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in a calendar year if she triumphs in New York next month.

But in a wide-ranging interview, Williams told CNN's Open Court show the prospect of that achievement was something she "doesn't really think about."

As well as dominating the women's game this year, Williams has been studying as a pre-med college major -- potentially preparing the way for medical school -- while also speaking out about the African-American experience in the U.S.

Earlier this month, she took to Twitter to voice fears of an unfolding "gigantic bad nightmare" after Christian Taylor, an unarmed black college footballer, was fatally shot by a white policeman in Texas.

"I think not just me, but a lot of people in America and outside America, are frustrated and concerned and really scared," Williams said. "You know, if I had a kid ... you wouldn't want them to get in trouble or, you know, do anything.

"I really think it just boils down to people as a nation pulling together. And it's not just me speaking out. There are a lot of people speaking out. And we're asking the same question: 'Why?'"

She said speaking out on such issues "maybe won't help," but added: "Maybe it'll reach the right ears at the right time."

The achievements of a number of women both inside and outside sport also haven't escaped Williams' notice.

With the U.S. women's soccer team having won the World Cup in Canada in July, and the appointment of Jen Welter -- believed to be the first woman to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL -- by the Arizona Cardinals, the tennis star said she felt that "we as women are on the rise."

"I think it's going to have a great effect," she explained. "You know, I get chill bumps thinking about all this stuff that women are doing in sports.

"I think it can have a ripple effect. There is a lot of stuff outside of sports -- a lot of women CEOs that I look up to and a lot of women that are empowering and are doing really well. And it is something that is just a great thing.

"When I was growing up I didn't see anyone that was my color, strong, powerful, beautiful and representing a lot of things outside of just one thing on the (magazine) covers. And I think, hopefully, that I can inspire someone else."

Williams revealed it "hasn't been easy" since her sister and fellow champion Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome, a condition that affects the immune system, in 2011.