Serena Williams & Alexis Ohanian’s love story | Vanity Fair
Mum-to-be and tennis queen, Serena Williams is on the cover of Vanity Fair’s August 2017’s issue. According to the publication, Serena and Reddit co-founder – Alexis Ohanian will be married this fall after the birth of their baby.
Serena, who is described by the magazine as “the best tennis player in history, with an aggregate winning percentage of 85.76 percent and 72 tournaments won on the Women’s Tennis Association tour (including the 23 grand-slam victories in 29 singles finals, not to mention 14 doubles finals with sister Venus).”
Serena shares how she and her fiancé Alexis Ohanian met, their love story, her pregnancy, and more. Read excerpts of the feature below:
How they met
Alexis and Serena met the way two people do in the best love stories: by chance. Actually, it runs a little deeper than that because, let’s face it, Alexis was initially considered by Serena and the others, she was with to be an irritant they were hoping would just get the hint and go away.
The location was the Cavalieri hotel, in Rome, on May 12, 2015. That night Serena was about to play her first match in the Italian Open. She is not a morning person and usually doesn’t eat breakfast, but the buffet offering at the Cavalieri was beyond extravagant and Jessica was champing at the bit, so they went to try it along with longtime agent Jill Smoller, of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, and Zane Haupt, who handles some business-development opportunities for Serena.
The buffet had closed down five minutes before the group got there, so their only recourse was to go to the pool area and sit at a table for four and order breakfast. Other people on Serena’s team were expected at an adjoining table.
The night before, Alexis had stayed up until one or two in the morning drinking at a café with Kristen Wiig and friends—Wiig was in Rome shooting Zoolander 2, and he knew her cousin, so he introduced himself. He passed out when he got back to the hotel, where he was staying for the Festival of Media Global conference, and was slightly hungover when he came down to breakfast. He too headed out to the pool area. Which is when he decided without thinking about it to sit at the table next to Serena, his only interest to get coffee and food and put on his headphones and work on his laptop. Which struck Serena and the others as a pain in the neck, since Alexis had a choice of other empty tables.
“This big guy comes and he just plops down at the table next to us, and I’m like, ‘Huh! All these tables and he’s sitting here?,’ ” Serena remembered. Alexis recalled that the pool area was “not quite so empty.”
Then came the quintessential Australian accent of Zane Haupt. “Aye, mate! There’s a rat. There’s a rat by your table. You don’t want to sit there.” Serena started laughing.
“We were trying to get him to move and get out of there,” said Serena. “He kind of refuses and he looks at us. And he’s like, ‘Is there really a rat here?’ ” At which point Serena remembers the first words she ever said to him.
“No, we just don’t want you sitting there. We’re going to use that table.”
“I’m from Brooklyn. I see rats all the time.”
“Oh, you’re not afraid of rats?”
Which is when Serena suggested a compromise and invited Alexis to join them.
Which is when Alexis became “98 percent sure” that the person asking about his rat tolerance was Serena Williams. He knew generally about her accomplishments on the court. But Alexis, an avid pro-football-and-basketball fan, had “never watched a match on television or in real life. It was literally the sport—even if ESPN was announcing tennis updates, I would just zone out. . . . I really had no respect for tennis.”
He did keep this to himself.
Serena asked about the tech conference and whom Alexis had come to hear speak. He later described the question as a “softball lobbed over the plate” that even he could hit out of the park.
“Actually, I’m here to speak.” Alexis told her about Reddit. Serena knew nothing about it but acted as if she did, and said she had been on it earlier in the morning. To which Alexis asked, “Oh, were you? What do you like about it?” To which Serena gave a very long “Wellllll . . . ” and was saved by Jessica and Jill chiming in.
Serena started asking him about her Web site and if she should have an app. Alexis thought, “This is an interesting, charming, beautiful woman.” But he had just come out of a five-year relationship and was still slightly hungover and “I was not thinking beyond ‘Yeah sure, I can give you some feedback on your Web site.’ ”
Serena thought he was interested in Jessica. But she did give him her number—she later said it was only because she might have more tech-related questions. He was eminently likable, and Jill, after finding out he was a client of WME for his speaking gigs, invited him to the match that night.
Serena had an injury and did not play well but still won. Afterward she and her team got on a van to head back to the hotel. Alexis was on board as well and Serena freaked out a little bit.
“I see this super-tall guy get in our [van], and I was like, ‘Oh my God, Jill. Tell me what’s wrong. Do I have another stalker? Why is Rome sending personal security with me. . . . And she’s like, ‘No, that’s Alexis.’ I remembered his name because it was a unique name. I was like, ‘Oh, I remember.’ ”
After recognizing him, she invited Alexis to join her team for dinner that night. It didn’t work out. But something was in the air, and as our love story continues, there’s only one place to find out just what.
What attracted Serena to Alexis
Alexis knew then he wanted to marry Serena, not simply out of happiness or compatibility. She was helping him become the best version of himself because of her own work ethic and focus, with millions watching and the expectation of the public that she should win every time, what Serena herself described as carrying “three pyramids” on her shoulder. He thought he worked hard—it is part of the romance of high tech that everyone works 18 hours a day and then curls up under the desk for a few hours’ sleep with their laptop as teddy bear and pacifier—but he realized it was nothing compared with Serena.
“I felt like a door had been opened to a person who made me want to be my best self. . . . I find myself just wanting to be better by simply being around her because of the standard she holds.”
… Serena wasn’t happy. Actually, she was livid. But after she got on the plane, she realized that he was flying her out for only one reason. “I knew it was coming. I was like, ‘Serena, you’re 35, you’re ready. This is what you want.’ ”
Alexis picked the same room they had shared a year earlier, the hotel at his instruction filling it with flowers. He took her downstairs to the same table by the pool area where they had first met. No one else was there, since the hotel, also at his instruction, had cleared everyone else out. He retold the story of how he had met her for the first time at this exact spot two years earlier. On the table was a little plastic rat.
Alexis got on one knee and proposed.
Photo Credit: Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair