First came the John McEnroe put-down, quickly followed by the social media backlash with fans coming to her defense, her Twitter response and—finally, just hours later—the Vanity Fair release of an image from its August issue—with the very pregnant tennis superstar naked on the cover.
Serena Williams, 23-time tennis Grand Slam champion, appears on the cover of the magazine in nothing but a flimsy piece of jewelry resting on her hip, just below her swollen belly.
The cover photo and the rest of the images that accompany the article, with the pregnant athlete in various nude poses, were taken by Annie Leibovitz.
Leibovitz also photographed actress Demi Moore in a similar state—and in what became an iconic image—in 1991, also for Vanity Fair.
Things apparently happened like a whirlwind for someone like Williams, 35, the world-famous jock who got engaged to her geek beau—Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, 34—and, in a matter of weeks, found out she was pregnant while on tournament at the Australian Open.
The Vanity Fair article tells of the couple’s love story—their accidental meeting in a Rome hotel in May 2015 (and where he chose to propose in December 2016), their first date in Paris a month later, her unplanned pregnancy and their wedding plans in the fall, after she gives birth to their first child.
Just a couple of days ago, retired tennis ace McEnroe belittled Williams’ career achievements in an interview. He told NPR that Williams—who has been dominating the women’s tennis since she was 17—would only rank 700th if she played in the men’s circuit.
Fans quickly came to Williams’ defense on social media. The mom-to-be, who told Vanity Fair she’ll be back on the court soon after childbirth, also responded in a two-part tweet: “Dear John, I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based. I’ve never played anyone ranked ‘there’ nor do I have time. Respect me and my privacy as I’m trying to have a baby. Good day sir.”
The next day, Williams shared an image of her Vanity Cover to her 8.4 million Twitter followers, asking them to guess if she’s having a boy or a girl.