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The Winning Routine That Keeps Venus Williams In The Game

The professional tennis player and fashion designer talks being prepared, staying focused, and taking time to dream.

The Winning Routine That Keeps Venus Williams In The Game
Tennis star Venus Williams: “I’m always prepared, usually overprepared. It’s the only thing I know.” [Photo: Chad Batka/The New York Times/Redux]

The first thing I do in the morning is think about my game. It’s an addiction, but I always think about how to get better. Everything is geared toward that. Growing up in my house, we weren’t allowed to waste time. We always had to be productive. We weren’t supposed to be watching anything that wasn’t educational. Even if we got to watch a cartoon, my dad would ask, “What did you learn?”

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I feel like I’ve been in business forever. I started playing tennis at 4, so from an early age I was balancing tennis and school and friends. I have multiple things pulling at me, so I have to sit down and stop and not be in the crunch. There’s always a price. If you decide not to put in the work, there’s a price. You won’t succeed or get to the level you possibly could. If you do put in the work, there will be sacrifice there too—your time, or your sleep, or your peace of mind. There’s always a price and you have to pay it.

For me, it’s having time to dream. I have this new goal to make 365 sketches in 365 days, whether it’s drawings for my [apparel company, EleVen] or just to think about spaces [for her interior design company, V Starr Interiors].

Before I get on the court, I’m checking in on myself and how I feel. I think about the areas I’m going to focus on in this match. I want to look back and say, Hey, I didn’t win every single match, but I prepared the best I could. I tried my hardest on the court. Sometimes you make mistakes, but there are good mistakes—the ones that lead to the next championship.

Time she wakes up: “9 a.m. is late, but anything before 9 is torture.”

Productivity tools: “Having a team helps, but I keep it simple. I use my notepads. I have a U.S. Olympic Team notepad, one for my tennis, and one for my business. I like to jot down questions to ask in meetings later.”

Commuting routine: “I catch up on sleep.”

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Productivity philosophy: “If you’re not first, you’re last. Oh wait, no, that’s Talladega Nights. One thing Serena and I always say is, ‘If you don’t do it, someone else will.’ ”

Best habit: “I’m always prepared, usually overprepared. It’s the only thing I know.”

Worst habit: “Not returning emails quickly. My inbox is overflowing and it’s the scariest place on Earth.”

Nightly routine: “If I’m at home, I turn on the TV. That’s a luxury—to be at home in my own bed with the TV on.”

Time she goes to bed: “10:30 or 11 p.m. at the latest if I have a match the next day.”