Former World No. 1 Serena Williams is considered among the greatest to have ever played tennis, and her many titles – across every discipline of the game, are testament to that fact. The 34-year-old, who this year equalled Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 Grand Slam titles – the highest of any player, male or female, in the modern day game, has long been an advocate for women’s rights and a vocal feminist over her two-decade career so far.
Among some of Serena Williams’ titles:
22 Grand Slam singles (of 28 finals)
14 Grand Slam doubles (of 14 finals)
4 Grand Slam Mixed Doubles titles (of 2 finals)
The most decorated player at the Olympic Games, Serena Williams has four gold medals – one singles, and three in the doubles (partnered each time by sister Venus).
Williams, who has suffered seriously from both racist and sexist abuse, has actively worked towards bringing those issues to light over the years, and has been one of the leading voices advocating for equal pay for men and women in tennis.
Women in the sport have for a significant time suffered from discrimination, dating back to the 1970s, when former No. 1 Billie Jean King with her own funds and with a few top women’s singles players of the time, first formed the WTA – which today boasts thousands of players from all over the world participating.
Williams, who with sister Venus has been an idol for young women in sport and otherwise, has been cited as an influence or an idol by a number of currently active tennis players – among them top 10 player Madison Keys, whom Serena has also played this year. Williams also has fans off the tennis court, with some of the USA and Jamaica’s biggest track-and-field names describing her as their sporting idol.
The American icon has also been working with families affected by gun violence in America, with the sisters setting up the Yetunde Price Resource Centre – named for their slain older sister, who lost her life in a drive-by shooting, in their hometown of Compton for those affected by the issue.
In her powerful letter, the younger Williams sister called upon some of the biggest names in men’s sport – golfer Tiger Woods, tennis player Roger Federer and basketball player LeBron James, asking why she alone had been pigeonholed into a category, while they were described as the ‘greatest athletes’.
To all incredible women who strive for excellence,
When I was growing up, I had a dream. I’m sure you did, too. My dream wasn’t like that of an average kid, my dream was to be the best tennis player in the world. Not the best “female” tennis player in the world.
I was fortunate to have a family that supported my dream and encouraged me to follow it. I learned not to be afraid. I learned how important it is to fight for a dream and, most importantly, to dream big. My fight began when I was three and I haven’t taken a break since.
But as we know, too often women are not supported enough or are discouraged from choosing their path. I hope together we can change that. For me, it was a question of resilience. What others marked as flaws or disadvantages about myself – my race, my gender – I embraced as fuel for my success. I never let anything or anyone define me or my potential. I controlled my future.
So when the subject of equal pay comes up, it frustrates me because I know firsthand that I, like you, have done the same work and made the same sacrifices as our male counterparts. I would never want my daughter to be paid less than my son for the same work. Nor would you.
As we know, women have to break down many barriers on the road to success. One of those barriers is the way we are constantly reminded we are not men, as if it is a flaw. People call me one of the “world’s greatest female athletes”. Do they say LeBron is one of the world’s best male athletes? Is Tiger? Federer? Why not? They are certainly not female. We should never let this go unchallenged. We should always be judged by our achievements, not by our gender.
For everything I’ve achieved in my life, I am profoundly grateful to have experienced the highs and lows that come with success. It is my hope that my story, and yours, will inspire all young women out there to push for greatness and follow their dreams with steadfast resilience. We must continue to dream big, and in doing so, we empower the next generation of women to be just as bold in their pursuits.
“My dream was to be the best tennis player in the world,” she said in the impassioned letter. “Not just the greatest female player.”
And that is a dream that Serena Williams, still in prime form and on track to equal the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, looks already to have achieved.