The 37-year-old tennis star covers the August issue of Harper's Bazaar, where she poses for stunning, unretouched photos. In the cover image, Williams wows in a Stella McCartney minidress, while an additional shot has Williams showing off her strong legs and partially baring her bottom in a Ralph Lauren Collection gown. The shoot also includes a profile pic of Williams who appears topless and simply wears a Gucci ear accessory.
In addition to the raw photos, Williams pens an essay for the magazine in which she goes into detail about the 2018 U.S. Open, where she was criticized for her on-court behavior during and following her finals loss to rising tennis star Naomi Osaka.
To start, Williams, who won her quarter-final Wimbledon match on Tuesday, recalls getting issued a violation by the umpire for coach signaling, something she denies doing.
"I approach him and emphatically state the truth: that I wasn’t looking at my coach. 'I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose,'" she recalls saying. "I walk back to the court and lose the next point. I smash my racket in frustration; he issues another violation and gives a point to my opponent. I feel passionately compelled to stand up for myself. I call him a thief; I again demand an apology. I tell him he is penalizing me for being a woman. He responds by issuing a third violation and takes a game from me."
Despite her frustration, Williams writes that Osaka "simply played better" to capture her first Grand Slam title, something that, Williams writes, she "could not have been happier" about.
"As for me, I felt defeated and disrespected by a sport that I love -- one that I had dedicated my life to and that my family truly changed, not because we were welcomed, but because we wouldn’t stop winning," she writes.
Following her loss, Williams returned to her Florida home where she battled a lack of sleep and a "never-ending loop" of "unresolved questions" about the finals drama.
"How can you take a game away from me in the final of a Grand Slam? Really, how can you take a game away from anyone at any stage of any tournament?" Williams recalls asking herself. "... Why can’t I express my frustrations like everyone else? If I were a man, would I be in this situation? What makes me so different? Is it because I’m a woman?"
While she attempted to put things in perspective and focus on the positive, the experience "was different" and "cut deeply." Eventually, Williams came to realize the extent of her hurt likely stemmed from the attention and praise that Osaka lost out on as a result of the drama.
"This debacle ruined something that should have been amazing and historic. Not only was a game taken from me but a defining, triumphant moment was taken from another player, something she should remember as one of the happiest memories in her long and successful career," Williams writes. "My heart broke. I started to think again, 'What could I have done better? Was I wrong to stand up? Why is it that when women get passionate, they’re labeled emotional, crazy, and irrational, but when men do they’re seen as passionate and strong?'"
Williams continues by writing about the sexism she sees in the sport and reveals that she sought the help of a therapist when questions and uncertainties kept persisting. Ultimately, Williams decided to write Osaka to apologize and express her excitement for the young athlete.
"Hey, Naomi! It’s Serena Williams. As I said on the court, I am so proud of you and I am truly sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself. But I had no idea the media would pit us against each other. I would love the chance to live that moment over again," Williams recalls writing Osaka. "I am, was, and will always be happy for you and supportive of you. I would never, ever want the light to shine away from another female, specifically another black female athlete. I can’t wait for your future, and believe me I will always be watching as a big fan! I wish you only success today and in the future. Once again, I am so proud of you. All my love and your fan, Serena."
Osaka's response, Williams writes, resulted in "tears roll[ing] down my face."
"People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can’t differentiate between the two," Osaka wrote in her response, according to Williams. "No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing."
"It was in this moment that I realized the real reason the U.S. Open was so hard for me to get over: It wasn’t because of the backlash I faced but rather because of what had happened to the young woman who deserved so much more in her special moment," Williams writes. "I had felt that it was my fault and that I should have kept my mouth closed. But now, seeing her text putting everything in perspective, I realized she was right."
Williams calls the experience "excruciating for us to endure," likens it to something "thousands of women" in the workforce experience "every day" and explains why she plans to continue to stand up for herself.
"Growing up as the youngest of five girls, I learned that I had to fight for everything I wanted. And I won’t ever stop raising my voice against injustice," Williams, who reveals that "it was a long while" before she picked up a racket again, writes. "... It’s never been easy. But then I think of the next girl who is going to come along who looks like me, and I hope, 'Maybe, just maybe, my voice will help her.'"
"Ultimately, my daughter is the reason I use my voice, the reason I picked up a racket again," she continues. "Love breathes life and newfound perspective into people. It’s not about quitting when someone presents a challenge; it’s about getting up when you are down, dusting yourself off and asking, 'Is that the best you got?' Because I have God with me, and I can take whatever comes my way."