Williams made her pregnancy public in April when she was 20-weeks pregnant. So, she was already 8-weeks pregnant when she won the Australian Open earlier in the year. She would remain out for the rest of the year, but hopes to come back to the courts in 2018.
Serena Williams is an all-time tennis great, with the maximum number of Grand Slams to her name. In addition to her 23 Grand Slam titles, she has also won four Olympic gold medals, making her the most prolific tennis player of the modern era. She also holds the record for the number 1 ranking for 186 consecutive weeks along with Steffi Graf.
A Childhood Spent on Tennis Courts
Serena was born as Serena Jameka Williams on September 26, 1981 in Saginaw, Michigan to Richard Williams and Oracene Price. Determined to have his children earn a name for themselves, Richard Williams started training Serena and her elder sister Venus when they both were very young. Youngest of Price’s five daughters, Serena started playing Lawn Tennis at the tender age of three.
The family moved to Compton, California where Serena, would practice two hours daily at the court. The Compton neighborhood was not really a bright place and was rife with crime. Richard wanted his daughters to be aware of the dark side of life visible right on the Compton streets, thereby emphasizing the importance of putting in hard work on the tennis court. Even the tennis courts were not perfect: the net would be missing at times, the courts had potholes, and what not. Both Serena and Venus knew if they had to make something out of their life, working hard was the key. Slowly but surely the seeds of hard work were sown.
By the time she was 10, Serena started getting noticed—she was ranked 1 in 10-and-under category. Elder sister Venus too started to make her own mark, winning a lot of local tournaments. Richard Williams quickly sensed his daughters are destined for much bigger things. He decided to relocate his family to Florida to ensure Serena and Venus get professional coaching. It was tough on Serena and Venus to constantly be on the move, but this was necessary for their tennis careers to grow.
Turning into a Successful Pro
In 1995, Serena Williams turned pro at the age of 14. Two years later, she broke into top 100 female players. In 1999, she won her first Grand Slam, winning the US Open, beating who else but sister Venus. Steffi Graf who had virtually ruled the tennis world for last 10 years suddenly had formidable sister duo of Serena and Venus as her challengers. And the Williams sisters brought forward a new brand of Power Tennis, something never seen on the ladies tennis circuit. Williams sisters, especially Serena, were sending down thundering serves, blistering forehands, backhands that packed a mighty punch, and smashes that, well, smashed out the opponents. It was pretty much everything one would expect from a Pete Sampras or a Goran Ivanisevic, except that here were the two ladies out on the tennis court.
Pretty soon, Serena won a $12 million deal from Puma. 2002 saw Serena in ominous form, winning the French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open, followed by Australian Open in 2003.
Setbacks and a Long Lean Patch
Things were looking good, with fame and money going hand in hand. But her first major injury and a series of lean performances was round the corner. By August, Serena had to undergo knee surgery to take care of the injury. And the very next month, her half sister Yetunde Price died. Years 2004-2006 saw Serena struggle with her form—apart from the win in Australian Open in 2005, she didn’t have much else worth to show for results. Riddled by poor form, injuries and fitness issues, she dropped a staggering 138 places from being the number 1 player in the world. Serena seemed trapped in the vicious cycle of self doubt and poor results.
Serena knew she has to pull herself up, persevere through this tough phase, and bounce back. She refocused her energies, and with her faith in God and her abilities, started inching up her way again to the top.
Later in 2009, she found herself embroiled in a controversy that involved lambasting a linewoman over her call. Serena was fined a hefty $82,500 by the Grand Slam committee and put on a two-year probation. But she soon put everything behind her and started putting good shows on the court. She won the Australian Open singles and doubles in 2010 as well as the Wimbledon.
In 2011, doctors diagnosed a blood clot in her lungs. This and other health-related issues kept her away from tennis for quite a few months. Her health problems seemed to be mounting by the day, leading to some speculations about her career being over. But Serena surprised everyone by bouncing back quickly into good health and making it to the US Open finals. The very next year she won the Olympic women’s singles and doubles Gold. Serena Williams just wouldn’t budge down; right when she would appear down and out, she would spring back, and how.
Right through her career, Serena had to face issues related to racism and body shaming. In their early days, the Williams sisters were something unusual for the tennis world accustomed to mainly white women playing tennis. Both Serena and Venus have been unfair targets for everything from their dresses on the court to the braids. And even after becoming one of the greatest tennis player ever, one could still notice an occasional nonsensical comment. And all through the years, Serena and Venus have dealt with it in an admirable way.
A lot of people somehow wanted to look down on her achievements due to her powerful, muscled body. Owing to her powerful physique, Serena has faced the worst of abuses from people calling her names to some even questioning if she is secretly a man. And she has attracted nasty abuses from every corner, be it social media, commentators, interviews, or newspapers. However, Serena has been a tough nut to crack. If there is something stronger than her body, it’s her mind that pushes her to keep striving, impervious to criticism.
When asked about body shaming during an interview, Serena summed up her positive and winning attitude beautifully, “Yeah, it’s me and I love me. I’ve learned to love me and I’ve been like this my whole life and I embrace me. I love how I look. I love that I am a full woman. I’m strong and I’m powerful and I’m beautiful at the same time and there’s nothing wrong with that… I don’t have time to be brought down; I have too many things to do. I have Grand Slams to win, I have people to inspire.” It’s impossible to put someone down mentally as powerful as Serena Williams.
To sum up her struggle and amount of hard work she had to put in, here’s a quote from Serena. “I didn’t grow up with things handed to me. I had to work hard, I had to dedicate myself, and I had to be determined.”
A Successful Entrepreneur
Having won almost everything possible in tennis, Serena Williams has explored a lot of other avenues as well. She owns a clothing line called “Aneres.” She has appeared on many reputed magazines’ covers, popular TV shows, and documentaries. She has also lent her voice to shows. In addition, she was once named one of the top 50 Most Inspiring African Americans.
Serena and Venus partly own an NFL team, Miami Dolphins. Serena has also released her autobiography, On the Line, in 2009.
Working for the Social Cause
All the success, fame, and money have made Serena give back something to the society and world. Serena Williams Foundation provides scholarships to underprivileged University students, works to make schools in African nations, and she participates in charity events. Serena has also been associated with breast-cancer awareness campaigns.
To sum up her struggle and amount of hard work she had to put in, here’s a quote from Serena, “I didn’t grow up with things handed to me. I had to work hard, I had to dedicate myself, and I had to be determined.”
Serena Williams shows the true spirit of Strive by making a success out of her life by sheer grit, perseverance, and hard work. How are you striving? Sign up to be notified when the Strive book becomes available.