Serena Jameka Williams is the greatest women’s tennis player to ever pick up a racquet and arguably the best athlete ever, male or female. A winner of 23 Grand Slams, the most ever by a player in the Open era and the second-most behind Margaret Court.
She also has 14 Grand Slam doubles titles and two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, giving her 39 career Grand Slam titles. Her $94 million in prize money is the most ever for a female athlete. But it’s her devotion to human issues, using her celebrity to champion causes like body imaging, gender and pay inequity and racial equality, that makes her iconic. Her fierce, competitive nature extends beyond the court.
Serena Williams wins her 23rd Grand Slam!
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) January 28, 2017
Serena Speaks On Racial Equality After First Grand Slam Title In 1999: Watershed Moment
Serena’s upset win over the youngest No. 1 ranked player ever and heavy favorite Martina Hingis in the 1999 U.S. Open Final, was where the Serena Williams phenomenon hit the mainstream. Williams became just the second Black woman to win a Grand Slam, joining Althea Gibson, who won in 1956. Since that day, Serena has made it a point to talk about what it means to be a Black woman competing in a sport where most competitors don’t look like her.
Serena Wins her first Grand Slam (& invents the “Serena Slam”) in 1999, defeating WTA No. 1 player Martina Hingis at the US Open.
…she was only 17 years old. pic.twitter.com/mV4yFlF9bN
— Khalil. (@khalilmsaadiq) August 25, 2018
In a 2015 interview Williams told Wired:
“Equality is important. I’m a black woman, and I am in a sport that really wasn’t meant for black people.”
Serena has always shouldered the responsibility that comes with being a Black woman in tennis.
“I embrace it and I love that I have an opportunity to it because a lot of people don’t. And I don’t have to be anyone different, ‘cause this is me. And it really fits well with me.”
Serena Is A Big Advocate On Body Image: Often Criticized Over Her Body
Throughout her career Serena has been scrutinized and dissected over her body. One that consists of refined biceps, and a muscular, toned frame that aids her elite power and athleticism. She’s used it to dominate tennis for the last 20 plus years.
But she’s always fired back at her critics. Never one to hold her tongue, Williams is an outspoken advocate for women’s fight against “body shaming.”
She discussed her continuous battle against outdated prejudices and stereotypes in a 2016 interview with The Guardian.
— Nike (@Nike) August 25, 2018
“For every negative comment, there’s a million good comments. I always say not everyone’s gonna like the way I look. Everyone has different types, if we all liked the same thing, it would make the world a boring place! What matters most is that I like myself.”
Serena Has Long Fought Gender Pay Equality: Billie Jean King Pushed For It First
The great Billie Jean-King was the original advocate for closing the gender pay gap, after she received just $600 for winning the 1970 Italian Open. Her male counterpart Ilie Nastase was awarded $3,500 for winning the men’s title. From that moment King attacked the discrimination with a fervor to make it fair. By 1973 the U.S. Open was shelling out equal prize money to the winners.
July 31 is Black Women's Equal Pay Day. Black women are the cornerstone of our communities, they are phenomenal, and they deserve equal pay. pic.twitter.com/XOHyIdbYPc
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) July 31, 2017
The Williams sisters have been vocal and proactive about this subject. Being the two most recognizable faces in the sport, it was imperative that they remained consistently vocal and attacked the pay disparity at every opportunity. Serena is aware she’s in a position she could’ve never imagined financially, but she wants it to be fairer, because statistics show that the gender pay gap affects women of color more.
Serena’s male counterparts ridiculed her for some of her comments. In a 2016 interview with Glamour, Serena explained why she’s so passionate and relentless about this particular issue.
“Will I have to explain to my daughter that her brother is gonna make more money doing the same job because he’s a man? If they both played sports since they were three years old, they both worked just as hard, but because he’s a boy, they’re gonna give him more money?”
“My goal is to inspire every woman out there. My new saying for the past few years, has been, “The success of one woman should be the inspiration for the next.”
Williams also dabbles in the cryptocurrency in a philanthropic role, helping startups like African Web3 and Sorare.
Serena is still nursing her body back to health and the world awaits her return to the tennis court to continue her pursuit of Court’s 24 Grand Slam titles. In the meantime, she’s enjoying her family, even getting some life advice from Prince Harry, and continuing to be a mouthpiece for women across the globe.
She deserves to be acknowledged, especially during Black History Month.
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