Serena Williams is indisputably one of the most iconic athletes of this generation. Her thirty-nine Grand Slam titles far surpass that of any active tennis player – male or female – and places her tied for third all-time. She holds countless records, won four Olympic gold medals, and has repeated as the highest paid female athlete in the world. Simply put, Serena Williams is a beast. Yet her unrivaled success was not achieved without hurdles, and from the beginning of her career through to the present day there have been many who doubted and disparaged her. Fortunately for Serena and tennis fans everywhere, she has always stayed true to herself and proudly stood for our motto – don’t do they, DUYU!
Born in Michigan, Serena Williams moved to Compton, California with her family when she was young and began playing tennis at four years old alongside her older sister, Venus. A notoriously rough neighborhood known for gang violence, Compton was hardly a typical environment to nurture a future star in the sport of tennis. Indeed, while she was dominating youth tournaments, winning a staggering forty-six out of the forty-nine pre-teen circuit competitions she entered, she was witnessing exchanges of gun fire at home. Unlike her early career competitors whom had the luxury of receiving world-class training while playing on pristine courts, Serena was trained by her own father and practiced on uneven surfaces that were sometimes missing nets. Despite these obstacles, by 1991 Serena Williams found herself ranked first in the nation in the 10-and-under division.
Serena’s unprecedented success as an outsider to the sport was, unsurprisingly, not always met kindly. THEY SAID she didn’t belong, and the young tennis prodigy was sometimes subjected to racism on the circuit. Not wanting his daughter to become burned out from prejudice and the rigorous demands of the youth tennis tournament schedule, Serena’s father moved the family to Florida where she and her sister could receive professional coaching at a proper tennis academy ran by a world-renowned trainer who had seen her play in Compton and was impressed by her potential.
“Growing up I wasn’t the richest, but I had a rich family in spirit… I went on a court just with a ball and a racket and with a hope.”
At the young age of fourteen and against the wishes of her protective parents, Serena turned pro. Four acclimating years later, she won her first Grand Slam title – the 1999 US Open. This marked the beginning of a run of dominance that would take the tennis world by storm. Between 1999 and 2000, she won Grand Slam doubles competing with his sister at the US Open, French Open, and Wimbledon, also winning her first gold medal with Venus at the 2000 Olympics. Then, between 2002 and 2003, she won Grand Slam singles at the US Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and Australian Open, holding all four major titles simultaneously and becoming one of only six women in history to complete a career Grand Slam. Finally, Serena Williams had become the #1 women’s tennis player in the world.
However, her first reign at the top of the sport was short-lived. In August of 2003, Serena underwent surgery for nagging knee injuries that had previously forced her to withdraw from competitions. A month later, her half-sister Yetunde was murdered in Compton. In the period to follow, plagued by continued injuries and the sadness of losing her sister, Serena’s world ranking plummeted to #139.
THEY SAID she was done – that she didn’t have the same motivation or fitness to compete at the level she once had. But Serena wasn’t finished. Drawing strength from her faith and a life-changing trip to West Africa, she pushed forward, winning the 2008 US Open. The following year, she won singles and doubles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, resoundingly reclaiming her place atop the tennis world’s rankings.
“I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall.”
Serena Williams was once again the undisputed queen of women’s tennis, but she would soon face yet another obstacle to her sustained success. In 2011, doctors discovered a blood clot in her lungs that had the potential to end her career, and she underwent a series of procedures including one to remove a hematoma.
THEY SAID she should retire, but once again, Serena did her. After it became safe for her to compete again, Serena returned to professional tennis and won an emotional victory at Wimbledon, her first major championship in two years. That same year, Serena won her first gold medal in women’s singles at the 2012 Olympics.
Over the next several years, Serena dominated the sport. She continued to rack up Grand Slam victories, once again holding all four major titles simultaneously between 2014 and 2015. Remarkably, she maintained a #1 world ranking for a record-tying 186 consecutive weeks.
At the 2017 Australian Open Serena won her twenty-third Grand Slam singles title – the most of any player in the Open Era, revealing afterwards that she was two months pregnant at the time. Later that year she gave birth to her daughter and took some time off from competition.
Following her return to tennis, Serena was understandably rusty. THEY SAID she wouldn’t be the same athlete post-childbirth and couldn’t win another Grand Slam. In 2018 and 2019, a determined Serena Williams lost in back-to-back finals of the US Open and Wimbledon. At the 2020 ASB Classic, however, Serena persevered – claiming her first title as a mother. Judging by her expectation-defying career, there is no reason to doubt that she will win her next Grand Slam soon enough.
“You have to believe in yourself when no one else does.”
From her unconventional journey to tennis stardom beginning in Compton to her resilience as a successful professional athlete who is also a mother, Serena Williams has made a living off of doing the opposite of what people have tried to limit her to. Be it injuries, hardships, or criticisms tinged in racism, the amount of hurdles Serena has had to overcome is only exceeded by her number of accolades and achievements. Not only is she one of the greatest tennis players of all-time, she is one of the greatest athletes across sports of this generation, and none of it would have came to pass if she had DID THEY? “Don’t do they, DUYU!”