Serena Williams’ US Open campaign came to an end after Victoria Azarenka came back from a set down to beat the legendary American. The unseeded Belarusian overcame Williams 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the semi-finals at the Arthur Ashe Stadium to set up a final with Naomi Osaka.
This run might have ended for Serena, but we take a brief look at how her career has been so far.
Serena Williams is arguably one of the world’s most known athletes, let alone a tennis star. She was born in 1981 in Saginaw, Michigan, to a father who was a former sharecropper from Louisiana. Serena’s tennis journey effectively began at three years of age when her family moved to Compton, California – a city ripe with gang activity and ugly realities of life. Her father took charge of teaching Serena and her elder sister – a certain Venus Williams – not only the basics of tennis, but the harsh realities of life.
Having started so early, it was no surprise to find Serena already ranking first in the 10-and-under division by 1991. It was at this time her father started reducing her role as his daughters’ coach and became more of a manager as the family moved to Florida. He was aware of the path he had set them on and wanted to ensure they didn’t burn out before they even began.
Serena became a pro in 1995. Within two years she was into the top 100 in the world. A year after that she had already signed her first brand sponsorship – a $12m shoe deal with Puma.
Her first grand slam win came in 1999 as she won her first ever US Open. She would go on to collect a modest 73 singles titles and 23 doubles titles (most of them teaming up with Venus), including four Olympic gold medals.
In 2009, she and Venus historically became the first African American women to own part of an NFL team when they purchased shares of the Miami Dolphins.
Serena got engaged to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in December 2016. The couple were married on November 16, 2017, at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. Serena won the 2017 Australian Open while being two months pregnant with her daughter Alexis, whom she gave birth to in September of that year and returned to the courts three months later.
Despite having a career lasting over a quarter of century, Serena has had her fair share of health scares over the years.
She experienced her first ever burnout in 2003 when she had to undergo a knee surgery. It was around this time her half-sister Yetunde Price was murdered in Los Angeles. The two events coupled in a lack of concentration that saw Serena slump to 139 in world ranking.
She almost came close to retirement in 2011 after doctors found a blood clot in one of her lungs. Several procedures ensued, including one for removal of a hematoma. However, Serena beat all odds as her health improved by September of that year and returned to playing. She lost the US Open final to Samantha Stosur. She then bowed out in an early first-round loss at the 2012 French Open. She then returned to top form in London in July 2012, beating Polish player Agnieszka Radwanska to claim her fifth Wimbledon singles title. She later beat Maria Sharapova at the 2012 Summer Olympics to win her first gold medal in women’s singles (her first gold medal came back in 2000 Sydney Olympics in doubled tennis that she won with Venus).
In 2017, Serena revealed she suffered major health complications while giving birth to daughter Alexis. She experienced sudden shortness of breath after undergoing an emergency caesarean section, which led to discovery of more blood clots in her lungs. The doctors also found a large hematoma in her abdomen that had been caused by haemorrhaging at the site of her C-section.
For an athlete of her stature, controversies were bound to follow.
In September 2009, she blasted at a lineswoman for a foot-fault call during her semifinal loss to eventual champion Kim Clijsters at the US Open. The outburst included profanity, finger-pointing, and an alleged life threat to the lineswoman. While Serena downplayed the incident, the US Tennis Association fined her $10k on the spot. Two months later, she was placed on a two-year probation period and levied a further $82.5k find to the Grand Slam committee. This is the largest punishment given to a tennis player to date.
In the final of the 2018 US Open against Japan’s Naomi Osaka, Serena got into a heated argument with the umpire after he gave her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, a coaching violation for seemingly giving her hand signals from the stands, implying cheating. Serena denied this and accused the umpire of sexism and character assault. She was given a point penalty for smashing her racket and a further penalty for verbal abuse. Osaka went on to win the final, and Serena was fined a further $17k for the incident.
Later in 2018 Serena was back in news after French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli announced he’d be issuing a new dress code at the French Open to prevent the reappearance of the notorious Wakandan-themed’ catsuit’ Serena wore at the tournament. Serena later went on to wear a custom-designed tutu for the start of the US Open play.
Serena Williams has already had a very long, prosperous, and inspiring career. She is one of the household names in tennis and continues to inspire women and people of color to reach forward in the world. She might have had a set back in this year’s US Open, but if there’s anything her life so far teaches us, is that she bounces back. Always.