Sometimes in the middle of our games, they’d stop working. So, we all did the unwritten Nintendo rule. We blew into the cartridges, put them back in the system, and we were back in business. From Duck Hunt to Super Mario Bros to Mike Tyson’s Punchout, growing up in the 80s, we were all addicted to the Nintendo Entertainment System. And when I say that we were all addicted to the groundbreaking home console that hit the U.S. in 1985, that includes a young Black girl who grew up to become a tennis phenomenon—Serena Williams.

When the now six-time Grand Slam Champion wasn’t perfecting her game and building a tennis legacy with her equally talented and accomplished sister, Venus, and their dad, who doubled as their coach, she was blowing into cartridges just like the rest of us. And now that she’s all grown up, many things have changed including her new role as a wife and mommy, but the one thing that has remained constant is her love for Nintendo.

At the top of 2020, COVID-19 forced the world into a lockdown, and the Nintendo Switch truly became a hot commodity, but Williams was an avid Switch player before the global pandemic. So much so that when her family went on vacation right before COVID swept the world, she packed it in her suitcase.

ESSENCE caught up with the global star, who won her first Grand Slam title in 1999 at 17 years old and has won titles every decade since. She shares details with us about her new partnership with Nintendo Switch and how growing up her and her sister used to get into trouble by their dad for playing too much Nintendo instead of focusing on their studies. Williams, arguably the best tennis player of her era, even shares a little about how her competitive ways get a little out of hand while playing Mario Tennis Aces.

Congratulations on your new partnership with Nintendo for Nintendo Switch. What is your earliest childhood gaming memory?

SERENA WILLIAMS: Definitely the Nintendo system. What was it called?

Was it the Game Boy?

WILLIAMS: No, but you know the big one with the cartridges. It was the NES. Nintendo Entertainment System.

Oh yeah, the one where we had to blow the cartridges.

WILLIAMS: Exactly. I think everyone has that memory and that was definitely mine. I also remember going to arcades a lot when I was younger and that was always so fun to me. It was like a thrill to get chance to go and play different games.

But at home, we were so excited when we got our Nintendo system, and it was amazing. We played so many of the games. We played too much, and my dad would get angry and say, “you have to do your studies.” And we’d be like “okay,” and we would still play.

So many of us have some great childhood memories of Nintendo, and we probably never imagined that we would find so much joy in playing Nintendo as adults. When did you first hear of Nintendo Switch and get your Nintendo Switch?

WILLIAMS: I first heard of it a little while ago. It was definitely over a year and a half ago. And I got it because I loved how there were so many Nintendo games that I could still play on it.

So there’s been so much going on this year. Has Switch been an escape or your moment to breathe in the midst of COVID and all that’s been going on this year?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think so. I’m spending so much time at home that I’m not used to, and it’s just different. It’s a completely different world than what we lived in, in January and February. Also, there’s no more gyms. At least I don’t go to the gym anymore, so I really liked Just Dance 2021 and the Fitness Boxing 2: Rhythm & Exercise.

So, it’s like, alright, I don’t have to work right now, but I do want to do a sweat, and a fun sweat. I’m literally loving the new music. I love choreography too, dance choreography, and it’s just a cool way for me to exercise and have fun. Olympia, she started dancing with me and she loves it. And so, it’s almost like a lot of family fun for us. It’s super, super fun.

Right now, because of COVID, it’s harder to connect with family and friends. Have you used Nintendo Switch as a way to connect with your people? And if so, how do you, who do you find yourself playing with the most?

WILLIAMS: So not so much. I haven’t done a lot with the connecting, but I definitely do it if someone’s at my house. But you know, with this new world, not many people are over unless they’re in my bubble. I mostly play with my family. And before this all happened, we were on vacation. I actually traveled with it and we played while on vacation, and it was insane. We had so much fun. But no, I haven’t done the whole connection part as much yet. I did it once in a Mario Tennis Aces, kind of like a tournament, which was fun, but I got a little too competitive. [hysterical laughter]

What’s your favorite games to play?

WILLIAMS: Definitely Just Dance 2021. And I really, really love Mario Tennis Aces. Those two are by far my favorite.

Are you super competitive while playing…Is Serena the tennis player different from Serena the Nintendo Switch player?

WILLIAMS: I am very competitive in Mario Tennis Aces to the point where I can’t lose, or I’ll get very upset and start not liking the character. Yeah, just a little too competitive, which is totally not normal. But in the other ones, like Just Dance 2021 and Fitness Boxing 2: Rhythm & Exercise, I’m not as competitive. I’m like, okay I can let that slide or I can let that go. But in tennis [Mario Tennis Aces], it’s dangerously competitive.

Why is this partnership with Nintendo, and this is our final question, but why is this partnership a good partnership for you and where you are in life right now?

WILLIAMS: Well, it’s just the greatest. It’s a great opportunity to encourage others to take a break, you know, and relax. I think a lot of times we kind of forgot that, and I think it’s so important to remember to relax and have fun. And this is one way to do it.

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