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Associated Press 2019 Athlete Awards: A Decade of Black Girl Magic

Serena Williams won AP Female Athlete of the Decade and gymnast Simone Biles won Female Athlete of the Year.

Last July, as Serena Williams was moving on to the Wimbledon semifinals for the 12th time in hot pursuit of Margaret Court’s record 24 career Grand Slams,  the mother, wife, social rights activist, fashionista, cultural icon, booming brand and GOAT tennis player also opened up in a personal essay in Harper’s Bazaar.

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“I’ve been called every name in the book. I’ve been shamed because of my body shape. I’ve been paid unequally because of my sex. I’ve been penalized a game in the final of a Major because I expressed my opinion or grunted too loudly…And these are only the things that are seen by the public. In short, it’s never been easy. But then I think of the next girl who is going to come along who looks like me, and I hope, ‘Maybe, just maybe, my voice will help her.’” @SerenaWilliams goes unretouched on our August 2019 issue and gets candid in a personal essay on BAZAAR.com. Link in bio Photography by @alexilubomirski Styling by @menamorado Hair by @vernonfrancois Makeup by @tyronmachhausen @maybelline #SerenaWilliams wears @ralphlauren, @bulgariofficial and @louboutinworld

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It was not only an opportunity for the general public to get a deeper glimpse into the life of a living icon, but a moment of reflection and celebration for a career that has defied the odds, gone against the grain and pushed the limits of what we thought was possible.

As her tennis dominance subsides a bit and young guns begin to close the gap, her standing as the epitome of Black girl strength, beauty, diversity, and impact continues to grow.

Williams was selected by The Associated Press as the Female Athlete of the Decade on Saturday after a vote by AP member sports editors and AP beat writers.

Three of Williams’ five AP Female Athlete of the Year awards came during the last decade, in 2013, 2015 and 2018. She also won in 2002 and 2009.

The AP Male Athlete of the Decade will be announced Sunday.

“When the history books are written, it could be that the great Serena Williams is the greatest athlete of all time. … I like to call it the ‘Serena Superpowers’ — that champion’s mindset. Irrespective of the adversity and the odds that are facing her, she always believes in herself,” said Stacey Allaster, CEO of the WTA from 2009-15 and now chief executive of professional tennis at the U.S. Tennis Association, which runs the U.S. Open.

 

“Whether it was health issues; coming back; having a child; almost dying from that — she has endured it all and she is still in championship form,” Allaster said. “Her records speak for themselves.”

A young Serena Williams and her older sister Venus took the WTA by storm and changed the culture of tennis, dominating the game from 2000-2010. As Venus’ game began to slide, Serena continued her dominance well into her 30s, racking up more grand slam titles this decade by defeating younger opponents and those aspiring  prodigies looking to dethrone The GOAT. 

If not for her pursuit of Margaret Court’s record 24 grand slam titles, Serena (23 titles) may have retired after she got married and almost died giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia. The way she has battled age, racism and outdated beliefs about Black women and beauty and fashion, elevates her to a legendary status that transcends the court. 

Her consistency is unmatched. 

Olympic gold-medal winning gymnast Simone Biles finished second to Serena for athlete of the decade but won AP Female Athlete of the Year.

“Serena’s been my idol growing up,” Biles told AP. 

“She’s remained humble. She’s stayed true to herself and her character and I think that’s really neat about an athlete,” Biles said. “Once you start winning, some get cocky, but she’s stayed true to herself, win or lose.”

Serena helped redirect the route to becoming elite in the racially-exclusive sport of tennis. For the past 20 years, the road to tennis supremacy has run through Compton, California and not some affluent country club.

Serena and Simone continue to be recognized for their athletic excellence, social activism, women’s empowerment, resilience and stellar representation of the American spirit.

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