There is no doubt in our minds here at GTHQ who the GOAT (greatest of all time) athlete is – Serena Williams. She has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most by any player in the Open Era, and the second-most of all time behind Margaret Court (24). She holds the most Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles combined among active players. Her 39 Grand Slam titles put her joint-third on the all-time list. She is the only tennis player, male or female, to have won three of the four Grand Slams at least 6 times. And these accomplishments are merely the cliffnotes version of how great she truly is (hello, she won the Australian Open in 2017 whilst in the early stages of her pregnancy!).
We have seen some fantastic documentaries and docu-series dedicated to showing us the person behind the tennis racket and endless trophies, and now fans of Serena will get to know her even more, from how she handles criticism and racism, to her roles as mother and philanthropist in Chanda Rubin and Zina Garrison’s pocast series ‘The GOAT’, from Diversion Podcasts and iHeartMedia.
They recently launched Season 2 which focuses on Serena Williams, and new episodes are released every Thursday. If you are a tennis aficionado, you might recognize Chanda and Zina themselves. Chanda Rubin is a tennis commentator and former top 10 professional tennis player. Throughout her career, she won 7 singles and 10 doubles WTA titles. She won the women’s doubles and was a women’s single semi-finalist at the 1996 Australian Open. That same year she achieved a number 6 ranking.
Born in Houston, Texas, Zina Garrison is a philanthropist and a former professional tennis player. She started her tennis career at 10 years old, eventually becoming the number one ranked junior player in the world. In 1990, Garrison also became the first African American woman to play in a Grand Slam final since 1958. Garrison is a three-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion and a 1988 Olympic women’s doubles gold and singles bronze medalist. After retiring from tennis in 1997, she went on to coaching, including the US women’s team in the 2008 Olympics, where she coached Serena Williams.
Chanda and Zina are close personal friends of Serena Williams and have put together a 12-part podcast series which features archival material and never-before-heard interviews. The podcast features a range of guests including tennis greats Billie Jean King, Monica Seles, Andy Roddick, Pam Shriver, Martina Navratilova, Serena’s sister Isha Price, rapper-actor and Serena’s former boyfriend Common, anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America Robin Roberts, coach Kamau Murray and many more, some of whom you can hear snippets from below.
We were stoked to have the opportunity to speak with both Chanda and Zina about their careers, their perspective on the number of young women of color coming up through the ranks of tennis, and how they shaped a podcast series on the record-breaking tennis champion, philanthropist, beloved friend and family-woman Serena Williams. Take a listen to the podcast trailer below:
We LOVE that Season 2 of “The Goat” has been focused on Serena Williams! How did you two come together to get involved in the series and what was the process of putting it together like?
ZINA GARRISON: When Chanda brought it to me, we were already doing our own Game.Set.Chat! We were really enjoying interviewing others and hearing their stories. I have been a mentor to Serena for over 20 years so we thought this would be a great podcast to celebrate all she has done with friends, family, and ones that have had a chance to shape her career.
CHANDA RUBIN: Zina and I started a video podcast show at the start of the pandemic called Game.Set.Chat! where we would have conversations with other athletes and celebrities. During that journey, we developed such an even deeper understanding and rapport with each. When the opportunity came about to host The Goat: Serena, I knew that Zina and I had to do this together. Zina and I have a shared perspective as former top tennis players but we also have a level of respect for Serena and a connection with her, in different ways. Coming together on this project has truly been a labor of love.
You are both former pro tennis players and understand the pressures placed on women, and especially women of color. What was the circuit like for you both when you were playing?
ZG: For me, there were for sure some barriers that were broken. Just being a black tennis player in an all white sport was a challenge, but I was not going to let that obstacle hold me back. It just made me want to work harder.
CR: When I became a professional tennis player at 15 years old, Zina was an idol of mine. I was able to see her and other black players like Lori McNeil get to the top of the game and that was important to see someone who looked like me at those levels. Tennis, as an individual sport, can be very lonely sometimes. It can make you question and doubt yourself. And the circuit is non-stop 11 months of the year. So it was always important for me to have a good base and strong family ties. That is also something we see with Serena: the importance of family and faith.
The US open recently wrapped up, and all eyes will be on the Australian Open in January (pending any unforeseen COVID-related announcements!), a place where Serena is well-loved and has dominated in the past. Will we see her make a return to the grand slam circuit in 2022?
ZG: That is the 200 million dollar question. One that only she knows. I am just praying that if she does, she will do it on her own time and way.
CR: If her drive and continued motivation is any indicator, we will see Serena competing for more Grand Slam titles in 2022. She retired from her 1st round match at Wimbledon 2021 with a hamstring injury and it’s going to be more important now to take care of her body and return as close to 100% as possible. She already holds the Open Era record with 23 singles Grand Slam titles but she has said she absolutely wants more.
Serena has dealt with some horrible racism throughout her career, but has managed to hold her head high and hit back where it counts – on the court. Why is racism still so present in areas of tennis?
ZG: Racism has been around for many years and does not seem to be going anywhere. What‘s eventually going to happen is people of all races will finally tell their stories and it will open the door for change.
CR: Racism is present throughout society and tennis is no different. And with so much of the spotlight on Serena, she has had more than her share of challenges as a black woman. But that is part of the remarkable story of Serena, how she has not let it stop her. She just keeps pushing through it.
Some of the guests on Season 2 include well-known names like Monica Seles, Andy Roddick, Martina Navratilova, and Billie Jean King (some of whom battled their own barriers in their careers). Can you share some highlights of what they shared on the podcast?
ZG: I would love to but each one of them has been really different and shared stories we have not known. So I would say you will just have to listen, lol.
CR: Monica Seles played Serena during Serena’s run to her first grand slam title at the US Open in 1999 as a teenager. Monica was a teenage prodigy herself and was already a multiple major champion. She talked about what she saw in Serena, some of the similarities but also the differences that made her so special. Andy Roddick tells some hilarious stories of training with Serena in Florida in the early days and talked about his continued friendship with Serena and getting her to do the Lip Sync battle with him! And you have to hear 18-time singles Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova, as a GOAT in her own right, telling us why Serena is THE GOAT. And I have to mention the inspiring conversations with Common and Robin Roberts talking about some of their special moments with Serena.
There are a number of young women of color coming up in the ranks in tennis. What kind of pressures do these young prodigies face being in the media spotlight?
ZG: I don’t think it is the media you have to deal with, it is how you chose to talk to them. I believe it was harder 20 years ago because journalists shaped the stories without really even knowing you.
CR: There are even more pressures with social media and massive sponsor responsibilities from an earlier age, sometimes long before getting the big wins. It can be difficult to keep developing and to not let the outside expectations change your sense of self and affect your inner peace. And on top of it, it’s important for these young women to be themselves, and not try to be another Serena, or Venus, or whomever. They have to find their own strength and power.
Zina, you coached Serena at one point, when she was part of Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. What was that experience like for you as a whole?
ZG: Serena is very goal-oriented and a hard worker that is always looking for ways to improve.
Can you both speak more about how women’s tennis has continued to evolve, and how Serena’s presence has played a pivotal role in that?
ZG: Women’s tennis has always been in the front when it comes to pushing equality for all. The GodMother of Sport, Billie Jean King has been a big part of us understanding our role to push the movement along and be treated the same in the world and in sports.
CR: Women’s tennis has continued to show itself as a top-tier sport that brings tremendous value. One of the biggest drivers of that value over the last two decades has been Serena alongside her sister Venus. Serena helped make women’s tennis blockbuster, must-see TV. The first women’s prime-time final at the USO was as a result of the dominance of Serena and Venus. Serena has built on her success to create a global brand and break barriers as a businesswoman and entrepreneur. She is a powerhouse and has been instrumental in building a continued legacy for women’s tennis.
What do you hope listeners will take away most from listening to GOAT Season 2?
ZG: I hope listeners take away that there is really no debate that Serena is truly a GOAT hands down. She has so many sides to her that has made everyone love her even more.
CR: I hope that listeners will enjoy hearing different stories and seeing a more human side of Serena, while gaining a deeper understanding of what has made Serena the GOAT. Listeners will hear not only from people within Serena’s small circle, but also from those that have played Serena and who are fellow all-time greats. It’s about more than just hitting tennis balls and listeners will understand exactly what that means.
Be sure to subscribe and listen to The GOAT: Serena from Diversion Podcasts and iHeartRadio by clicking HERE.