Serena Williams might have lost the final women’s singles showdown at Wimbledon on Saturday, but she’s not about to let that defeat—or any others—throw her off. Speaking in a press conference after the match against Romania’s Simona Halep (final score: 6-2, 6-2), Williams powerfully defended herself against recent critiques, including from tennis legend Billie Jean King, that she should focus more on tennis and less on her activism work and “being a celebrity.”
“There have been a few comments made in the last couple of weeks from people like Billie Jean King that maybe you should stop being a celebrity for a year and stop fighting for equality and just focus on the tennis,” a journalist asked her at the end of the press conference. “How do you respond to that?”
Williams, of course, had the perfect answer ready. “The day I stop fighting for equality and for people that look like you and me will be the day I’m in my grave,” the 23-time Grand Slam champ responded.
For context, King had said back in June that it was a “wish” she had to see Williams just focus on tennis. “She’s got business, a baby, she’s trying to help gender equity, particularly for women of color, she’s actually on the Billie Jean King leadership initiative, she and Venus are both advisors for it. [It makes winning a Slam] much harder,” she told the U.K.’s Metro, highlighting that there’s a lot on Williams’ plate. “I would like her to put everything else aside, because she’s got people working on those things. I wish she would just make a commitment for the next year and a half to two years and say, ‘I’m going to absolutely focus on what’s necessary for my tennis, so when I look in the mirror when I’m older then I can go back in my mind and know I gave it everything I had.'”
“If she’s happy doing it this way, then that’s fine. It’s whatever makes her happy, it’s not about us,” King added.
After Williams’ response at the press conference, King clarified her words on Twitter: “I would never ask anyone to stop fighting for equality. In everything she does, Serena shines a light on what all of us must fight for in order to achieve equality for all,” she wrote.
King is herself a staunch advocate for gender equality: She won the historic 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match against Bobby Riggs, which went a long way toward breaking down the cultural perception that women’s sports are somehow “less than” men’s, though that fight is far from over. In the Metro article, King also admitted that it’s “not fair” to ask Williams to devote herself only to tennis—and she referenced how difficult the sport became for her as she aged past 40 (Williams is 37).