Tennis star Serena Williams has revealed her pregnancy figure by posing nearly nude on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.
The US sporting ace, 35, discussed her love life with fiance Alexis Ohanian – the co-founder of website Reddit – and her shock upon discovering she was to become a mother.
Williams, who shared an image of the cover and one of the accompanying shots on her Instagram page, was photographed exclusively for the magazine by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz.
The athlete is seen holding her breasts with one hand, her baby bump on full display and her modesty protected by flesh-coloured underwear complete with a delicate chain.
Along with the striking cover image, which harks back to actress Demi Moore’s naked pregnancy shot on the cover of the fashion tome taken by Leibovitz in 1991, Williams spoke of her shock at expecting a baby with tech whizz Ohanian.
The pair met in May 2015 in Rome and became engaged in December 2016 after the 34-year-old proposed in the Italian city, at the same hotel they had first crossed paths.
Of learning she was pregnant in January this year, Williams said she “did a double take and my heart dropped”.
Williams said, of her initial thoughts: “‘Oh my God, this can’t be – I’ve got to play a tournament. How am I going to play the Australian Open?’
“I had planned on winning Wimbledon this year.”
Williams told the magazine: “It just doesn’t seem real. I don’t know why. Am I having a baby?”
She added: “If you would have told me last year in October or November that I would have a baby, not be pregnant but have a baby, I would have thought you were the biggest liar in the world.
“This is kind of how I am right now. This is happening sooner than later, and it’s going by so fast.”
Williams said she intends to return to the pro tennis circuit in January next year.
The reveal of the cover and interview came after former tennis world number one John McEnroe was widely criticised for his comments about Williams – who holds the Open era record of 23 grand slam singles titles – in which he appeared to belittle her achievements.
After describing Williams on US radio station NPR as the greatest female player of all time, McEnroe was asked why he had not simply said greatest player.
He told CBS: “I felt the need, however unfortunately, to defend myself and say what I really felt, which is about what I think she would be.
“I’ve got a solution. Solve the problem, and I’m sure the men would be all for this – the men and women play together. And then we don’t have to guess.”
Williams later responded to him on Twitter, writing: “Dear John, I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based.
“I’ve never played anyone ranked “there” nor do I have time. Respect me and my privacy as I’m trying to have a baby. Good day sir.”
* The August issue of Vanity Fair is available from July 7.