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Redefining The Game: The Legacy of Serena Williams

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

Tennis legend. Entrepreneur. GOAT. Mother.

These are just a few words to describe the essence that is 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams. In August, Williams announced her plans to step away from the women’s tennis tour to focus on her family. Rather than use the word retirement, Williams has chosen to express her decision to leave the professional tour as an evolution in her career. Over the course of her 27-year professional career, Serena Williams has left more than just broken records and unimaginable achievements on the courts. She has left a legacy.

Williams is no stranger to accomplishing the unimaginable. Her dominance on the court has seen her win 23 grand slam titles, 73 career singles titles and four Olympic gold medals. However, it isn’t just the numbers she leaves to her name. It is the power of her on-court presence and the inspiring story surrounding her dominance that marks her name in the history of the sport.

Williams began playing tennis at the age of four alongside her older sister, Venus, in Compton. Coached by their father Richard Williams, the two girls slowly rose to prominence in the 1990’s after winning numerous junior competitions and moving up the ranks at the national level. By 1992, the girls had moved to Florida to begin training professionally for a career in tennis. Being the elder sister, Venus had been the main focus of the media as she made a name for herself with her powerful serve return. However, Richard acknowledged that Serena would be the more successful of the two. Three decades later, he was right.

A year after making her grand slam debut at the 1998 Australian Open, Williams won her first grand slam title at the 1999 US Open after defeating world number one Martina Hingis. Over the next 20 years, she set about dismantling a prejudiced establishment as her dominance of the sport turned her into a symbol of empowerment. Her strength and skill saw her reign as the women’s world number one for 319 weeks. William’s grit and determination ushered in an era of change within the world of women’s tennis as she set a new precedent for talent and power, especially within the Black community. Her representation of Black excellence saw a rise in levels of participation in the sport amongst African American girls across the country, as they became inspired to be just like her.

Williams is one of the reasons why many other players such as Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff became involved with tennis. Gauff’s father used many of Richard Williams’ teachings when training his daughter, hoping to have her follow in the footsteps of one of the greatest female tennis players of all times. Osaka has commented multiple times how she never would have turned towards tennis if it wasn’t for Williams’ influence.

Williams’ strength in the face of adversity has been the most inspirational aspect of all. Not only has she had to overcome racial and gender prejudices, but after the birth of her daughter in 2017, she has had to overcome the physical and mental struggles of playing as a mother on tour. It is no secret that having a baby changes the female body. Williams had been open about her struggles with her physicality after having Olympia; however, she was not deterred from playing the sport she loved. The sheer will she possessed to make a comeback saw her work twice as hard in the year that followed as she steadily rose back up the ranks. By the end of 2018, she had made the final of the US Open with a level of passion that showed her unwillingness to back down from a challenge. Her comeback marked her force as both a player and as a mother, continuing to build upon her legacy as the greatest female tennis player of all time.

Serena Williams accomplishments as a tennis player have sealed her place in history. Her ambition and power on court have made her an influential icon for many across the world. However, it is without a doubt her role as a mother has left the biggest mark of all in the span of her career. Her ability to show her daughter the power of her mother on a tennis court with the support of the world has left a greater legacy on the world of tennis that many tennis fans will never forget.

Megha is currently a third year global studies major with a passion for digital journalism at UCLA. She loves exploring the arts beyond writing, including photography, graphic design, and painting. In her free time, she loves reading classic literature, making jewelry, and learning new languages!