Serena Williams and the Evolution of Athletic Greatness

Serena Williams and the Evolution of Athletic Greatness

The tennis world got a jolt of good news recently when it was announced that Serena Williams had accepted a wildcard spot to play at Wimbledon this year.

Williams, the winner of 23 Grand Slam titles and seven Wimbledon championships, has not played since an injury forced her out of the first round of Wimbledon last year.

That kind of layoff makes her a longshot to advance past the opening round, let alone add another Wimbledon title to her resume.

But at this point in her career, fans of the game aren’t as consumed with the outcome of her play, but are more focused on the fact that she’ll be out there competing.

Even at less than her best, Williams is a tennis tsunami with varying levels and layers of impact that cannot be overlooked.

“One thing is for sure—nobody wants to play against Serena Williams, so the other 127 players are going to be scared to draw Serena Williams,” said Barbara Schett, a former World No. 7 player who is now a tennis analyst.

Because of that, Serena’s return to Wimbledon or any tournament for that matter, is a reason to celebrate and appreciate her. Not only because of her talent, but what her talent has meant to the world of tennis, a world that’s a lot more open to embracing Black and Brown talent thanks to her.

From the very outset of her career, Serena was cast into the role of being a pioneer. That became all the more difficult to do while honing her tennis that ultimately allowed her to emerge from the shadow of her uber-talented big sister Venus Williams who on many levels has been a pioneer of the sport as well.

And while both have been tremendous ambassadors for diversity when it comes to women’s tennis, much of the focus has been on their athletic prowess and not as much on what they have done to advance the game for women off the court.

The lucrative, multi-million dollar deals that barely raise an eyebrow now in the world of women’s tennis, are due in part to Venus Williams, 42, who signed an eight-figure, multi-year deal with Reebok when she was just 15 years old.

We have since seen a number of women of color command lucrative endorsement deals, such as Naomi Osaka, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens and 15-year-old phenom Coco Gauff.

On and off the court, Serena is seen by many as the gold standard with her net worth reportedly being $210 million.

And as we see Serena nearing the end of her life cycle of athletic greatness, she is more than deserving of her flowers as one of the great game-changers in sports—not just tennis.

She forced those within and outside of the tennis world to re-calibrate some of the snooty, long-held beliefs cloaked in “tradition” that did not recognize, acknowledge or appreciate how unique a talent she is.

She leveled up as a savvy business woman with several endorsement deals, including her own clothing line.

But ultimately, it’s her tennis play that serves as the driving force behind much of the success she has enjoyed.

And while this may not be her final go-around, the end is drawing near.

But before she walks away from the game she has given so much to for so many years, every opportunity to acknowledge and praise what she has meant to tennis, should be taken.

More than the tournament wins, Serena has succeeded in doing what all Black athletes in sports that are not overly diverse, are ultimately charged with doing and that is make a meaningful, sustained difference.

It’s great that she has won 23 Grand Slam titles and seven Wimbledon titles. But impacting the lives of others with her play, its purpose and a proven body of work sustained over more than 20 years, is the kind of legacy that should be embraced and appreciated.

We will get another shot at doing just that at Wimbledon, knowing it’ll be one of the last times we will see one of the all-time greats of the game compete on such a large stage.

The outcome doesn’t matter.

Seeing her out there playing for what may be the last time, does.

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