When Serena Williams gets run down by the demands of work and being a mom, she thinks of someone whose strength inspires her to keep going.
You: the average working mom.
"I think of what they do literally every single day to support their family and to be a rock for their family," she told TODAY Parents in an exclusive interview. "And it helps me keep going. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think that women are just really amazing."
While Williams' schedule is demanding as an elite professional athlete, the 38-year-old mom of Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. realizes she's lucky to be able to make her own schedule and have a lot of flexibility around competitions.
"We're strong. We keep going and wake up the next day and smile like nothing ever happened. That's just what we do."
"I don't know how moms do it," she said. "I work a lot, and I can't imagine working a full day like most working women and then go back to their babies. I'm fortunate enough that I have days off, and I get to make my schedule and then can spend the rest of the day with her. And that's still hard."
Being vulnerable versus strong
Williams acknowledged she struggled with being a working mom during this year's Australian Open, a tournament she's won seven times, but lost in the third round this time.
"The hardest part is walking out of the house while she's crying because she wants to be with me. It's very hard and makes me vulnerable and upset," she said. "Even in Australia, my heart was aching when I left the door."
Williams is a role model to many — Renee Zellweger called the tennis star a hero during her best actress acceptance speech at the Oscars earlier this month. But when it comes to balancing motherhood and work, Williams said she's like every other mom. "You just have to keep going," she said. "Just when you think you can't do it anymore, you kind of close your eyes and go for it. We're strong. We keep going and wake up the next day and smile like nothing ever happened. That's just what we do."
"I want to be a real leader and fight for women's equality."
The mom of one has been candid about her motherhood journey, opening up about her difficult delivery and battles with mom guilt. But it was the vulnerability of motherhood that surprised her the most.
"As an athlete, you can't be vulnerable. You have to be strong," Williams told TODAY Parents. "As a mom, you're completely vulnerable to everything. And that's what makes it scary."
Serena Williams' daughter loves... soccer
Since becoming a mom, Williams has openly struggled with consistently staying on top of her game. She lost her first Fed Cup singles match after an undefeated streak since 1999 and just won her first title in January at the ASB Classic after a three-year drought. While there's no indication that Williams has plans to retire from tennis, she is working on supporting the next generation of female athletes, starting with her daughter.
"She is into sports," said Williams. "Unfortunately, she's into soccer. I got really jealous and gave her a little Wilson tennis racket. But she prefers a soccer ball, and that's OK."
The sports icon has partnered with Secret Deodorant as a paid brand ambassador, and is working on the brand's study on gender inequality in sport.
"Sports changed my life, and (Olympia) is into sports. So, this partnership means even more to me," said Williams. "Women in sports stay more focused and have more confidence. But, having a daughter, I know that she may potentially face these problems (of inequality). That's why I want to take it head-on now. I'm in a part of my life where that's something that I really want to talk about. I want to be a real leader and fight for women's equality."
She added, "Things don't change overnight. It takes generations. So hopefully she might be preaching this message one day along with me. But at the end of the day, it's really about making it better for each generation."