How Serena Williams rewrote the playbook for female athletes juggling motherhood and sport, using sports as a platform to make a lasting statement
With the women’s final set for Saturday, Serena Williams had a lot riding both her shoulders and hers.
The American great was going to compete her eighth consecutive U.S. Open final. And she would be matched up against her old rival, Billie Jean King.
But she was also about making history. The 23-time Grand Slam winner and six-time Grand Slam champion had just been named the first woman inducted into the United States Tennis Association Hall of Fame. The sport organization’s president, Tom Fecsek, said Williams’s induction would be “a momentous occasion.”
And then there was the issue of what happens when Williams is not active, a topic she addressed in her last speech to the U.S. Open crowd in 1993, a year after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She took on the role of ambassador for women’s sports, speaking not just about her on the court, but also about women’s health.
“Serena has done it all,” Fecsek said. “And she does it with a smile.”
Williams has used her game as a platform for advocacy and personal transformation. But she also has used sports as a way to speak out about issues that matter to her.
“I’ve been called an activist before,” Williams said over the phone. “I think I’ve been a lot of things I never thought I’d be, including a lot of things I never thought I’d be called. I think ‘activist’ was at the end of the list. For me to actually be an activist is completely uncharted territory, and the biggest challenges I had when I was first starting out, I learned the hard way about self-doubt.”
The most challenging time in Williams’s life happened when she lost the 2005 U.S. Open final. It was then that she took stock of her life: Her husband of 19 years,