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When Serena Williams returned to the 2018 French Open just months after giving birth to her first child, there was very little talk about her straight sets victory over Kristýna Plíšková.

Instead, the conversation largely revolved around what she was wearing: the now iconic superhero ‘catsuit.’

And, boy, was there a conversation.

“I didn’t know it would have such an impact,” Williams tells CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies. “Here I am, just trying to be healthy, I was a new mom and just trying to be me. It was a great moment. I didn’t know it would cause such a stir.”

Williams was banned from wearing the catsuit at future French Open tournaments after French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli said that Roland Garros would be introducing a dress code.

“It will no longer be accepted,” Giudicelli said of the catsuit at the time. “One must respect the game and the place.”

The decision and Giudicelli’s comments drew widespread criticism, particularly from tennis great Billie Jean King, who posted on social media that the “policing of women’s bodies must end.”

The skintight outfit also served a serious purpose, Williams said at the time, helping the 23-time grand slam singles champion’s blood circulation after a difficult childbirth.

Williams, however, said that she had no issue with the decision and comments made by Giudicelli.

The black outfit had a red band that ran around the waist, but Williams revealed the original design wasn’t supposed to look that way.

“When I first put it on, it was in a fitting, and in the fitting, it had this red line and that was just a mark because they were going to change it to either dark silver or black, so it was meant to be all black,” says Williams.

“And I was like: ‘No, we gotta keep this red. We gotta keep this red.’ It was so cool. I know it’s a ‘sample,’ but we’ve got to make them and they have to be this color. And I felt so comfortable.”

“Oh my God, now I’m getting sad memories because I miss it,” she adds wistfully. “Oh no, now I’m like: ‘I want to go home and put it on, and of course, I want to play and slide around on some clay. Oh, such good memories.”

Williams, who has not played competitively since the 2022 US Open, says she hasn’t worn the outfit since that year. “But I need to,” she adds.

The 14-time grand slam doubles champion – widely considered the greatest women’s tennis player of all time – said she was “obsessed” with the catsuit when she first wore it because it was “so different” to anything any player had ever worn in tennis, sometimes considered a traditional, conservative sport.

At the time, Williams said she felt like a “warrior” in the suit or “a queen from Wakanda,” referencing the fictional nation in the Marvel movie “Black Panther.”

Williams was banned from wearing the outfit at future French Opens.

While much of the initial discourse around the outfit was about fashion and what was considered acceptable for tennis, there was little talk about how the catsuit was designed to help Williams physically.

In an opinion piece for CNN in 2018, Williams described how she almost died while giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, due to issues with blood clots.

The 42-year-old says she wishes the practical element of the catsuit’s design was taken into consideration more at the time.

“I love wearing skirts,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, they’re like my favorite thing to wear, my tennis dresses, but I wanted to make sure that my blood was always circulating and I had been in a near-death experience.

“So I think there should have been and could have been – and whether there was or not, I was in it and I wasn’t getting out of it – understanding around that whole outfit.”

She credits Nike, her kit manufacturer, for knowing “how to spark a conversation” and praises them for being able to “really understand the athlete.”

“I think in that moment, I really needed to be understood,” she says. “I’d just had a kid. I think my baby was just a few months old at that time – why I was even playing, I don’t know – and obviously, I had so many issues with my blood clots.

“They understood that what I was needing at that time, and it was great. So just hearing my voice and listening to my voice and then hearing the conversation around everything that happened after that, after the catsuit, it was really incredible – and shocking, too.”

Nearly six years since stepping onto the Parisian clay in the catsuit, Williams says being a mother has taught her to be “more kind to myself.”

The catsuit served a serious purpose, helping Williams with blood circulation following complications during childbirth.

She says she has always instilled that kindness in her daughter, too, teaching her that what she says to herself – and others – really matters.

“I’m more kind about body image, I’m more forgiving,” she says of herself. “And then it’s not only that, it’s how I also talk to my daughter. I always tell her: ‘Say something nice. Is there something nice you can think of about this girl?’

“Because I just want her to always think positive about other people as well. Because that cattiness and that mental health is really not healthy.

“So I think it just starts at such a young age of just encouraging positive views and positive feedback and positive words that are coming out of your mouth.”

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