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Serena's Sunny Side

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You know her as the driven, intense superstar tennis player. Now meet the real Serena -- a woman who loves to laugh, sings cheesy karaoke songs, and admits that Zumba is the one workout that's too hard for her.

The Other Serena

Serena Williams knows how to make an entrance. She pulls up to the Eau Palm Beach hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, in a pint-size white Fiat with a hot pink racing stripe and a hot pink dashboard, wearing a body-hugging minidress.

It's not the outfit or the car you would expect the hard-charging top female tennis player in the world to choose, but nothing about Serena is predictable. After all, this is a woman who spontaneously belts out Little Mermaid songs at the FITNESS photo shoot, loves to perform choreographed karaoke song-and-dance routines (Bon Jovi and Air Supply are faves), and delights in pulling pranks on friends -- like sticking out her foot to trip them.

"I think of myself as two different people," she says. "There's the Serena Williams that everyone knows: She's crazy. She can't make a mistake. And she's angry and just not nice, to be honest. I'm only that person for three hours a day, when I'm on the court. The rest of the time I'm just Serena. I'm the class clown."

These days, after surviving health crises that kept her off the tennis court for nearly a year, Serena appreciates fun and laughter more than ever. In the summer of 2010 she suffered a career-threatening foot injury that required two surgeries and put her on crutches, and in February 2011 she ended up in the intensive care unit with pulmonary embolism -- multiple blood clots in her lungs that permanently destroyed some of her lung tissue. "I didn't realize how sick I was then," Serena, 32, says. "My dad told me afterward that he couldn't even be around me because he was really scared for me." When she finally got back on the tennis circuit, she quickly reclaimed her number-one world ranking, winning 11 titles and more than $12 million in prize money in 2013 alone, a record for women's tennis -- thanks in part to a new diet and fitness routine and a fresh perspective on life. Here, Serena dishes about it all.

Is playing tennis your version of going to the office?
Yeah [sighs]. Plus I'm a little insane. That's when Serena Williams comes out and she's nuts. That really upsets me. It's not the real me. I was watching this match the other day with my dad, and I literally looked like I was going to cry on the court even though I was up 5-1 match point! I thought, Gosh, why was I so stressed out? Even for me, it's shocking to see. But in another way, it's kind of cool to know that I have everything together on the court, because I don't really have my life together personally. I'm here and there and everywhere traveling the world and playing tennis. Recently, though, I've gotten more serious. I've decided that my foundation is going to open another school in Africa. [The Serena Williams Foundation helps build schools and provides scholarships and grants to students around the world.]

When you were sick, did you worry that you'd never play tennis again?
Forget tennis. It was the first time that tennis was the last thing on my mind. I didn't even think, I gotta practice because I've got to beat this girl, I gotta beat that girl. At one point I was just thinking, Will I be OK?

What was it like finally getting back on the court after a year of not competing?
I'd never been in a match thinking, I'm not going to win, but there I was at Wimbledon in 2011, where I had won the year before, and I knew I wasn't going to win once I started playing. I couldn't breathe. I remember seeing stars, and I thought I was going to faint. I was really trying to fight. I lost and was ranked about 180th in the world!

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