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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Serena Williams

Aired August 25, 2003 - 20:52   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Time to talk tennis now. The U.S. Open championships are under way here in New York. With neither of the men's or women's defending champion around to defend his or her title, men's champ Pete Sampras announced his retirement earlier today. And the women's champ, Serena Williams, is recovering from knee surgery, unable to play.
She joins us tonight, though, from Tampa, Florida. How are you tonight? Welcome.

SERENA WILLIAMS, 2002 U.S. OPEN CHAMP: Good. Thank you.

ZAHN: Does it hurt to be sitting so far away from the openings of the U.S. Open?

WILLIAMS: No, not at all. At first it did. I was very disappointed. But I realized my recovery is really fast. I'm doing really well. And I might need a little time off.

ZAHN: Well, I know a little bit about knee injuries, having spent the better part of a year trying to rehab one. Not under the pressure that you're under. How are you doing and when are you going to be back at competitive play?

WILLIAMS: No, I'm doing really well now right now. I'm taking it a day at a time. I just want to take my time with this whole recovery thing. I don't want to speed anything up. Who knows, maybe later on this year.

ZAHN: You can't give us like a date or a tournament that you want to isolate for us this evening?

WILLIAMS: Don't worry. I'll be back.

ZAHN: OK. Well, we're counting on that.

We wanted to note that there were no Williams sisters at the French Open this year in the finals. And the television ratings were down almost 40 percent. And there has been a lot made of that. And when you look at the ratings from the previous year, when you and your sister faced off there, do you think the Williams sisters have become the key to the success of the sport of tennis, especially the women's game on television?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think women's tennis as a general is definitely up in tennis. And I think everybody is really looking at women's tennis and everybody is focusing on women's tonight. And I think Venus and myself have a lot to do with that because we bring just a whole different crowd to watch tennis, just to be honest with you.

A lot of different people are looking into it. I can't really say. I guess the ratings speak for themselves, just to be honest with you. But either way, women's tennis is very exciting and there is a lot of exciting faces.

ZAHN: We should also make it clear in addition to some of the new fans you brought out you didn't have the easiest time at the French Open. And we're going to play a little bit of what you had to confront there. Let's listen.

WILLIAMS: OK. It is tough. I'm over that, you know? That was a long time ago. That was a fun outfit.

ZAHN: Yes, very nice. I love the colors. You always keep us peeled to the fashion on the court there. But I don't think our audience could clearly hear the booing going on there.

Now some commentators attributed that either to an anti-American attitude or even racist attitudes. Do either one of those arguments ring true to you?

WILLIAMS: Well, it was definitely anti-American at the moment in France, especially at that particular time with what the world was going through. Also, I just think maybe they wanted to see a different champion. You know you can't really blame them.

It ended up being a really good match. And like I said, I'm totally over that. I've moved on to bigger and better things.

ZAHN: Well, you know who else is moving on? Pete Sampras announcing his retirement a little bit earlier this evening.

So Serena, I saw you almost wince when you heard him say that. Is that because you think about that, of course, like 30 years down the road, in your case, but...

WILLIAMS: Hopefully.

ZAHN: But it is something an athlete has to think about.

WILLIAMS: It is definitely something an athlete has to think about. I think right now I'm really young in my career, so I have a lot of -- much more time under me. But Pete Sampras was a great champion. I really looked up to him and I modeled my game after him.

ZAHN: Always good to see you, Serena. And we wish you the best of luck with your rehab work.

WILLIAMS: Thank you. Good to see you as well.

ZAHN: Get that knee strong.

WILLIAMS: I will.

ZAHN: Listen to what those doctors tell you to do and do it twice as much as they tell you, and we'll see you by the end of the year.

WILLIAMS: OK.

ZAHN: Good luck.

WILLIAMS: Bye, thank you.

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