Serena Williams is a Michigan native with a host of maternal and paternal siblings. She and her sister Venus began playing tennis at ages four and seven, respectively. It was clear they possessed a talent for the sport. After moving to Compton to attend a tennis academy in 1983, she began training in 1984 and played in her first junior tournament in 1991. Williams began playing professionally in 1995, at age 14.
Williams won her first major singles title in the 1999 US Open, at just 17. She was the first black woman to win this since Althea Gibson won in 1958. Her subsequent Grand Slam US Open titles came in 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014, with doubles titles in 1999 and 2009. Serena won Grand Slam singles titles in the Australian Open in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2017.
The Williams sisters have competed with and against each other a number of times throughout their professional careers. In the 2000 Olympic Games, the Williams sisters won gold in the women’s doubles event. They would go on to win the same title in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In 2002, Serena defeated Venus to win her first Wimbledon. She defeated Venus again in 2009 for another Wimbledon title. She subsequently won Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon in 2012, 2015 and 2016.
Williams has won a total of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, which is more than any other man or woman. She has an 84.8 percent winning record in singles, and 85 percent in the doubles and has been ranked number one for 319 weeks, 186 consecutively. She ended her career with an invigorating performance at the 2022 US Open.
Williams revolutionized the game with her ‘Serena Slam;’ her powerful serves and outstanding athleticism caused problems for her opponents. She’s challenged the norms throughout her career; her outfits are known for challenging ‘conservative’ dress codes.
Williams has cemented herself as a trailblazer in the women’s game through her powerful style of play, consistent victories and unprecedented nature.
Controversies, Racism and Body Image
Success for Williams has never been easy or linear. Throughout her career, she experienced a number of injuries and struggles along the way. Williams has been the center of a number of controversies, many of which she had no control over and a number of which included racist or sexist undertones.
In the 1997 US Open, the Williams sisters wore beads in their hair for the duration of the tournament. This ignited a swarm of attention from the public and newscasters. Their hair was characterized as “noisy and disruptive,” criticized that it “othered” them. Though the Williams sisters aren’t the first black women to be publicly criticized and scrutinized for a hairstyle, the fact that an announcer would disregard their unparalleled talent to be blatantly racist on television speaks to the media’s limitations on successful Black women.
On September 14, 2003, Serena’s oldest sister, Yetunde, was murdered in the crossfire of a shooting. This was devastating to Serena and her family. She’d subsequently create the Yetunde Price Resource Center in her honor.
Williams has been publicly penalized on a number of occasions for her passionate expressions during play. In 2009, she was issued the maximum fine for unsportsmanlike conduct towards an umpire. She was also fined at the 2011 US Open for her exchange with an umpire. She received violations in the 2018 US Open for racket abuse, verbal abuse to an umpire, and coaching violations. These sanctions ignite a discussion about her reactions compared to male athletes; many argue Serena’s reactions are less severe than male athletes but result in more severe consequences in the name of gender norms.
In 2015, a discussion about Serena’s physique was ignited on various platforms. People began to claim she “looked like a man” and suggest this as the rationale for her success in tennis, as opposed to actual talent and hard work.
The sheer fact that Williams can compete at such a high level after such adversity is intriguing. She’s consistently competed at the highest level since her debut in 1995. Being criticized has never hindered her exceptional performance on all levels.
Outside of Tennis
Williams is a very active philanthropist, businesswoman and dedicated mother outside of tennis. Her success isn’t limited to tennis; she’s also created S By Serena, Serena Williams Fine Jewelry and Serena Ventures, all of which emphasize inclusion.
She married Alexis Ohanian in 2017 and shortly after had their daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. The timing of this revealed that she was eight to nine weeks pregnant while competing in and ultimately winning the 2017 Australian Open. After giving birth, Williams suffered a pulmonary embolism, which left her bedridden for six weeks. Winning an international Grand Slam tournament while pregnant is quite literally unheard of.
After having surgery for the same condition in 2011, Williams suspected she was having a pulmonary embolism when she experienced shortness of breath. However, her treatment team disregarded her concern and did not adhere to her initial request for a CT scan. Eventually, a CT scan revealed that she did indeed have a pulmonary embolism, and treatment followed accordingly. Williams received the necessary care only after advocating for her own care to a group of physicians who were supposed to take her care seriously. It’s clear that despite Williams’ success, disdain and apathy for Black women within the health system are eminent regardless of status or achievement.
It’s notable that Williams has been supported by top male athletes like Lebron James and Tiger Woods, both of whom have given her flowers as the G.O.A.T. She’s an inspiration to all women, especially Black women, athletes, and to those with obstacles in front of them. Her perseverance and determination are a symbol of strength; an illustration of fortitude.
In August 2022, Williams announced she’d be retiring, or, ‘evolving’, as she refers to it. She cited her desire to expand her family and pursue business ventures as the reasons for her ‘evolution away from tennis.’
It’s clear that Serena Williams is, in fact, the G.O.A.T. of women’s tennis.