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Serena Williams Gave Meghan Markle This Advice on Dealing With Fame

September 5, 2017, 2:34 PM UTC

The public eye can be especially harsh on women who live in its sharp focus.

A story in the latest issue of Vanity Fair shows how two of the world’s most scrutinized women—Serena Williams and Meghan Markle—are helping each other deal with it.

Markle, the Suits actress and philanthropist best known for her relationship with Britain’s Prince Harry, spoke about the romance for the first time in a new interview with the magazine. In addition to acknowledging that, “We’re a couple. We’re in love,” Markle also recognized the attention their relationship has triggered and the oftentimes racist coverage she’s received from the tabloid press. Last year, The Daily Star Online, for instance, referred to Markle, a bi-racial Californian, as Prince Harry’s “new love… from a crime ridden Los Angeles neighborhood.” The public assault against Markle grew so fierce last year that Kensington Palace released a statement from Prince Harry in which he decried the “outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.”

In learning how to deal with such attention—including from persistent paparazzi—Markle turned to friend and tennis legend Serena Williams.

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“I told her, ‘You’ve got to be who you are, Meghan. You can’t hide,’” Williams told Vanity Fair. After years in the international spotlight, the winner of 23 Grand Slams is well-versed in responding to criticism, fair or otherwise.

When Romanian tennis legend Ilie Nastase llegedly made a racist comment about Williams’s unborn baby in April, the tennis star (who reportedly gave birth on Saturday) posted a lengthly response about the “plethora” of barriers that still exist for women and people of color.

“This or anything else will not stop me from pouring love, light and positivity into everything that I do,” she said. “I will continue to take a lead and stand up for what’s right. I am not afraid unlike you. You see, I am no coward. “Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? You may shoot me with your words…you may try to kill me with your hatefulness, but still like air, I rise.”

Williams’s response was briefer but just as pointed in June when she replied to a claim by former tennis player John McEnroe that she’d rank No. 700 on the men’s professional tennis circuit.

“Dear John, I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based,” she wrote on Twitter. She also asked McEnroe to “respect me and my privacy as I’m trying to have a baby.”

Williams and Markle’s friendship started seven years ago when they met at the Super Bowl, according to Vanity Fair, and the two have traded public compliments of late.

For Markle’s Vanity Fair story, Williams told the magazine that the actress’s personality “shines.” Likewise, for a Vogue story on Williams, Markle said the tennis star “will be an amazing mom” because she’s “so attuned to balancing strength and sensitivity.”