1. Career Grand Slams
2. Olympic Gold Medals
3. World Number One Ranking
4. Most Successful Player In Women’s Tennis History
5. Highest Earnings Per Year
6. A Woman Who Defies Gender Norms
She Defies Age
At 33 years, 289 days old, Serena Williams became today the oldest woman ever to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open Era. Her victory over Angelique Kerber of Germany was her eighth career major championship triumph, tying her with Margaret Court for third place among active players. This marks the second time Serena has claimed the US Open crown, having done so in 1999 while still a teenager. She has now won majors as a teen (1) and in her 20s (11), and continues to compete well into her 30s (8).
In fact, the eight grand slam titles Serena Williams has won during her 30s are also a record—male and female. She has 21 wins to just 4 losses when playing in grand slam finals—also another record for either gender.
And it doesn’t look like she’s slowing down. She’s already won three matches in the 2017 season alone.
Serena Williams’ Journey to Being the Greatest Athlete of All Time
In 1995, at age 14, Serena Williams started playing tennis professionally. She quickly became one of the most popular female athletes in the world. In 2017, she became the oldest woman ever to win the Australian Open. And now, she’s set to play in her 24th consecutive grand slam final.
In 2018, Williams announced that she’d be taking a break from competitive tennis for the rest of the year because of a knee injury. While she did eventually return to competition, she didn’t make it to the second week of the French Open.
But, in 2020, Williams returned to action at the Miami Masters. At 36 years old, she entered the event ranked number 10 in the world. She went on to beat three seeded opponents en route to the quarterfinals.
Since then, Williams has continued to improve her game. She’s already qualified for the US Open, where she’ll face Venus Williams in the third round.
The Williams Sisters: A Real Dynamic Duo
When Serena Williams was born in 1981, her mother had already given birth to another daughter, Venus. And while Serena’s arrival didn’t exactly come as a surprise, it did cause a stir among the family’s friends and neighbors. “I remember my mom telling me how much I looked like Venus,” Serena told ESPN earlier this month. “And I thought, ‘Oh, really?’ Because I was always very different.”
As the youngest of the girls, Serena spent most of her childhood being compared to her elder sister. She was often teased about her looks, especially because she stood out thanks to her long hair and big eyes. In fact, she once told Oprah Winfrey that she hated having her picture taken. “I don’t want people taking pictures of me, because I’m ugly,” she said.
But even though she felt self-conscious growing up, Serena says she never felt jealous of her older sister. “She was beautiful, and I loved watching her play sports,” she recalled. “But there was no competition.”
That changed when Serena turned 10 and Venus turned 13. Then, when both girls hit puberty, they became fierce rivals. They competed fiercely over everything, including their clothes, food and toys. “They used to fight over anything,” Serena told Oprah. “We’d go outside and scream at each other.”
Their father tried to mediate the battles, but he couldn’t stop the sisters from fighting. So, one day, he called a friend who happened to be a professional tennis player and asked him to help. The man agreed, and soon enough, the Williams sisters were hitting balls together every single day. “He taught us how to volley, how to serve, how to change directions,” Serena remembered. “He showed us how to keep our eye contact during matches. He was amazing.”
Richard Williams died in 2003, but his legacy lives on. Today, the two sisters are still competing against each other on the court. And they’re still battling off-the-field, too. In 2016, Serena accused Venus of cheating at Wimbledon. After winning the match, the younger Williams claimed that her sister had been helped by a ball girl. When Venus denied the accusation, Serena responded by saying, “You know what? You’ve got a lot of nerve coming here and talking to me.”
Serena’s Legendary Solo Career
In 2005, Serena Williams began transitioning away from professional tennis. She had already begun playing college tennis at Stanford University, where she would go on to win three NCAA singles championships. But it wasn’t enough. She wanted something bigger. Something grander. And that meant doing what many athletes do—turning pro.
That same year, Serena signed a contract with Nike. Her signature shoe, the Black Diamond, became one of the most popular shoes in sports history. By 2007, she’d become the world’s highest paid female athlete.
But there was still work to be done. After winning five straight majors in 2001, Serena had gone nearly seven years without another major victory. So she set about trying to change that.
By the summer of 2006, Serena was ranked number one in the world. She hadn’t dropped a single match since losing to Sharapova in London in 2004. She was ready to take down the competition once and for all.
And she did. In September 2006, Serena defeated Lindsay Davenport at the US Open, becoming the first woman ever to hold all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously.
Her dominance continued into 2007, too. She went on to win the French Open and Wimbledon in succession, making her the first player to complete a “Serena Slam.”
After the 2007 season, however, Serena’s career took a turn. A mysterious illness forced her to withdraw from the tournament in Rome. She missed the 2008 Olympics because of the injury, and she withdrew from the 2009 US Open, citing exhaustion.
Making History On and Off the Court
In one of the most shocking upsets in tennis history, Serena Williams lost to Roberta Vinci in the 2015 U.S. Open semifinal match. This came just three months after she had won Wimbledon and became the oldest woman ever to claim a major championship. When asked about the loss, Serena responded, “I’m disappointed because I wanted to go out there and play my best.”
The next day, Serena took full responsibility for the defeat and admitted that she wasn’t prepared enough for the match. In fact, she called it “the biggest disappointment of my life.” But while she was devastated, Serena never gave up hope. Instead, she vowed to come back stronger than ever. And, sure enough, she did exactly that. After nearly four years away from the sport, Serena returned to the WTA Tour in 2016 and dominated the clay season, claiming six consecutive singles titles. At the French Open, Serena finally got revenge against Vinci, defeating her in straight sets to capture her 23rd career Grand Slam title.
Paving the Way for Women in Professional Sports
In July 2020, tennis legend Serena Williams announced that she, her husband, Alexis Ohanion, and her daughter, Olympian Olympia, are investing $10 million into Angel City FC, a newly formed women’s soccer club based in Los Angeles.
The investment is part of a larger plan to bring professional sports leagues to women. Williams, who is also a cofounder of the nonprofit organization Girls Inc., told ESPN that it is important for girls to see role models like themselves, particularly in sports. She added that she hopes the NWSL will help pave the way for those female athletes to make it onto the men’s side of the game.
Williams has long been an advocate for equality in sports, especially regarding gender parity. At the 2018 ESPY Awards, she gave a speech about how she felt that the lack of opportunities for women in sports had contributed to the underrepresentation of women in politics. As a result, she founded the Serena & Venus Williams Foundation, which aims to support organizations working toward gender equity in sports.
She also launched the #WeGotGame campaign in 2017, encouraging people to use the hashtag to show support for women in sports.