Tennis star Serena Williams may be recognizable to the entire world, but she’s generally kept her private life just that: private. When she revealed that she was engaged to internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, then, the news raised a few eyebrows. But while the couple are now married with a child, not everyone knows the details of how they got together. And when you learn them, your heart might just melt.
Serena was primed to be a champion from an early age, beginning training in tennis at the age of just three. The hard work paid off too, as she and her sister, Venus, would eventually become two of the most talked about people in the sport. Then in 1999 Serena pipped her sister to the post in the race to see who would win a Grand Slam first.
And Serena ended up becoming an absolute tennis superstar. She has earned the record for having won more singles matches than any other woman; along with her sister, she also holds 14 doubles Grand slams. In addition, she has four Olympic gold medals. And, of course, she’s earned a bit of money along the way too; in 2017 she was the only woman listed on Forbes’ ranking of the highest paid sportspeople.
But the tennis star’s love life has always been the subject of speculation by the media. It was compounded by the fact that Serena was, by her own admission, introverted when it came to romance. “I am really shy. I don’t talk to guys,” she told Vogue magazine in 2015. “Friends? Yes. But a potential? No. I get nervous that I will say the wrong thing, and then I just start laughing.”
The men that Serena did date, however, tended to be other celebrities. From 2004 to 2005, for instance, she went out with film director Brett Ratner; in the end, though, she ended up ditching him on her reality show, Venus and Serena: For Real. Then in 2017 Ratner was accused of sexual misconduct, and the breakup clip – in which Ratner appears to keep touching Serena despite her calling him “disturbing” – spread all over the internet.
After that, Serena started dating actor Jackie Long, but that liaison didn’t last either. In January 2008 Serena wrote a blog post detailing the end of a relationship, not naming the man in question – but it seemed obvious that it was Long. The man she’d been dating had “needed space,” she said, and he had utterly broken her heart.
Serena then began seeing someone more famous: the rapper Common. They had an on-off relationship that eventually ended in a split, although it was an amicable one. “When we broke up, it was one of those things where we just weren’t ready at that time,” Common told radio host Rickey Smiley in 2014.
Come 2015, however, there were rumors that Serena was going out with hip-hop star Drake; the pair had also reportedly been spotted kissing. If indeed they were dating, though, they kept it very much on the down-low. During a Wimbledon press conference in July of that year, for example, Serena was asked about her relationship with Drake. Her response? That the two of them were “just like family.”
But it seemed that while the media’s attention was focused on a possible Serena-Drake fling, Serena’s heart actually lay elsewhere. In May 2015 she had run into a man called Alexis Ohanian at the Cavalieri hotel in Rome. However, even if this encounter would eventually lead to romance, it definitely hadn’t begun that way.
Meanwhile, Alexis himself was one year Serena’s junior, and his career was in a totally different field. The entrepreneur had co-founded discussion site Reddit, which he had sold in 2006 for an estimated $10 million. Then after a period of carrying out volunteer work and writing a book, he went back to his original home at Reddit, taking the executive chairman role.
Furthermore, in 2013 The New York Times profiled Ohanian and reported on how he’d met his then girlfriend, microbiology Ph.D student Sabriya Stukes. They had first encountered each other in college while she was looking for someone in his dorm. “I asked him where my friend was,” Sabriya told the publication. “He said, ‘I don’t know’ and then went back to playing video games.”
Alexis didn’t seem, then, like the most romantic person in the world. And his relationship with Serena got off to an even worse start than that anecdote by his ex suggests. When he first met Serena, he was hungover, having spent the night partying with actress Kristen Wiig. In his tired state, he wandered down to the pool and saw plenty of empty tables – but decided to sit at the one next to Serena and her friends.
In 2017 Serena reminisced to Vanity Fair, “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?’” In a scene that could have come straight out of a romantic comedy, she and her friends tried to get him to leave by telling him that there was a rat by his table. It didn’t work.
Realizing that she wasn’t going to get rid of him, Serena subsequently invited Alexis to join her. And while Alexis only had a vague idea of who she was, it crystallized as they got talking. They discussed the internet and websites and Serena ended up giving him her number – strictly for tech-related reasons, though. Then one of Serena’s friends invited him to a tennis match, and things only progressed from there.
Then, over the next two years, the pair began spending more and more time together and fell completely in love. Alexis decided he wanted to marry Serena, in fact, and so concocted a plan on how to pop the question. In the end, he took her back to the Cavalieri hotel, right to the table where they had met, and proposed to her. On the table, he had placed a little toy rat.
And not long after the proposal came another fantastic surprise for Serena: she was pregnant. She posted the news on her Snapchat: a side-on picture of herself with the description “20 weeks.” She had been expecting, in fact, when she emerged victorious in the Australian Open – another career highlight. Alexis had learned the good news just before the match started.
Then, on September 1, 2017, Serena welcomed a baby girl who was named after her father: Alexis Olympia Ohanian. Unfortunately, though, the birth didn’t go entirely to plan. “While I had a pretty easy pregnancy, my daughter was born by emergency C-section after her heart rate dropped dramatically during contractions,” Serena wrote in a CNN article in February 2018. “What followed just 24 hours after giving birth were six days of uncertainty.”
In fact, Serena suffered multiple health problems after giving birth – wounds reopening and blood clots among them – and was lucky to have pulled through. But thankfully for her new family and for the sporting world, she did so and in time returned to health. And on September 13, 2017, Serena introduced the world to her new baby via an Instagram video. “We had a lot of complications, but look who we got — we got a baby girl!” she said delightedly.
Then, 11 weeks after having their baby, Serena and Alexis got married. They tied the knot in November 2017 and threw a star-studded party in New Orleans. Among the guests were actress Eva Longoria, Beyoncé, fashion doyenne Anna Wintour, Kim Kardashian and tennis player Caroline Wozniacki. Table names and wedding favors were themed after the tennis trophies that Serena had won.
It was a joyously happy ending. And Serena’s life-threatening experience giving birth actually didn’t seem to put her off the possibility of having another baby. In June 2018 Alexis did an Instagram Live chat in which he called Serena “an amazing mom” and said that the couple had considered expanding their family. “[It’s] definitely something that we want to do,” he said. It seems, then, that the future’s looking very bright indeed for Serena and her family.