Following the close of the decade, Serena Williams has been given the honor of being named Female Athlete of the Decade by Associated Press. Few athletes have achieved the level of Williams’ success over the past ten years, both on and off the court. Beyond her pure unadulterated athleticism, Williams became a first-time mother after a tumultuous and high risk pregnancy, fought against both sexism and racism within society and the athletic community, and secured her role as both a fashion icon and role model.
With a dozen Grand Slam titles under her belt over the past 10 years (and 23 spanning her entire career) across the majors–including wins at the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open–Williams has dominated this decade on the court to continue her record breaking streaks. She’s also been the runner-up seven times across major tournaments, four of them after having her daughter in 2017. It’s no surprise that the tennis superstar would be named Female Athlete of the Decade, after being awarded three separate AP Female Athlete of the Year awards across the decade, including 2013, 2015, and 2018 (and in 2002 and 2009, no big deal).
Williams started the decade off with an injury, not returning to the court to practice until March 2011. She was treated for a pulmonary embolism and blood clot in her lung after cutting her feet on broken glass the year prior. Despite the setback, Williams soldiered on through her recovery until she was ready to compete again. Out of 33 appearances at the Grand Slam finals for singles, she continued to dominate and win 3 times at the Australian Open, 4 times at Wimbledon, 3 times at the US Open, and 2 times at the French Open.
In 2017, Williams announced she was pregnant publicly when she hit the 20 week mark. If you do the math, she was 8 weeks pregnant when she won the Australian Open title in January of that year. Her pregnancy was not smooth sailing, causing the tennis star to have a c-section due to a pulmonary embolism during labor. A large hematoma was discovered by her doctors in her abdomen, caused by hemorrhaging at her C-section wound,, further delaying her return to tennis and training after receiving multiple surgeries. Williams remained candid about her pregnancy after birth, sharing details on Instagram about her postpartum depression.
Williams opened up about her life-threatening pregnancy via an op-ed on CNN, revealing that she almost died giving birth to her daughter, Alexis. Through her piece, Williams advocated for the health of black women worldwide, sharing the statistic that black women in the United States are three times more likely to die from pregnancy or other childbirth-related causes.
As if her athletic prowess and activism weren’t enough, Williams took on the world of fashion. Through her own line of clothing, Serena, she provides every woman with chic, trend focused clothing. Her line of jewelry, Serena Williams Jewelry, brings gold and silver pieces that use conflict-free diamonds for their hint of glitz. Williams’ collaboration with Nike x Virgil Abloh for her “Queen” collection bridges the gap between her love of fashion and pure athleticism, bringing stylish styles to the court.
Her fashion on the court has been the center of controversy in the world of sports. Williams wore a sleek black catsuit for her return to the French Open in 2018 (it also helped with her blood clots), but the suit was deemed unacceptable under dress code regulations by the French Tennis Federation president, Bernard Giudicelli. Williams clapped back, taking the court for the US Open shortly after wearing a black leotard with a frothy tutu attached, sending her message loud and clear. Her look to the French Open in 2019 was a subtle nod to the previous year’s controversy, designed by Virgil Abloh for Nike. The monochromatic look donned the words “champion,” “queen,” “goddess,” and “mother” in French.
Stacey Allaster, chief executive for professional tennis at the U.S. Tennis Association, had it right when she said that Williams’ records speak for themselves.
“When the history books are written, it could be that the great Serena Williams is the greatest athlete of all time…I like to call it the ‘Serena Superpowers’ –that champion’s mindset,” Allaster said. “Irrespective of the adversity and the odds that are facing her, she always believes in herself.”