Serena Williams can rightly claim to be the greatest female tennis player ever, with 300 weeks at the top of the world rankings and a record number of Grand Slam victories. Aged 35, she isn’t done just yet…
In January 2017 Serena Williams won an Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam singles crown by defeating sister Venus in the women’s final. Surely cement her place as one of the game’s greatest players.
At the age of 35, Serena Williams has had a sensational tennis career that shows few signs of fading. In fact, events in Australia have seen the return to the big stage for players many thought were past their prime. Take Venus for instance. Few people would have expected the 36-year-old to reach a final that she last made 14 years ago – when she lost to Serena. Will history repeat itself? Serena herself played Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 18 years after her last Grand Slam semi final appearance. And in the men’s game, following early exits for Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal made it to the semis for the first time since 2014. How refreshing to see the thirtysomethings leading the way.
“Everyone has their moment in the sun, maybe mine has gone on a little longer than other people, but I have nothing else to do,” joked Venus after her semi final win.
Serena, the world number one has been at the top of the ladies game for 22 years, in which time she has won 22 Grand Slam titles.
Before the Australian Open, Serena has 38 Major titles when you include the 14 women’s doubles and two mixed doubles titles she has also achieved. Even more remarkable is that those women’s doubles titles have all been won playing alongside older sister Venus.
When the Williams sisters burst onto the tennis scene, they ushered in a new era of power players in the ladies game. And that era continues, with Serena being the highest paid female athlete in 2016 (US$28.9 million).
Little wonder, then, that Serena utilises Wheels Up and is the latest big-name sports star to become a brand ambassador for the charter company.
“I like to say I live on a plane. That’s my lifestyle and I travel the world,” says Williams in a promo video for Wheels Up.
“I used to say I live in an airport but now my travelling has got some much easier. With my hectic schedule, having a convenient way to travel is the only way to do it. Travelling privately with Wheels Up has changed my life. I work hard. I’m playing tennis, I’m doing design, I have a fashion line on HSN, and I’m in school.
“It would literally be impossible to do that if I weren’t able to fly on Wheels Up.”
It’s hard to imagine a leading professionals athlete having other interests and careers, but somehow Serena juggles her sporting excellent with successful businesses and savvy investments – along with Venus she owns a small stake in the Miami Dolphins football team and also the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
As well as a long-standing association with Nike, Serena also has her own designer fashion label Aneres – her name spelled backwards. In 2009 this spawned a handbags and jewellery collection called Signature Statement, which she has shown at New York Fashion Week.
Serena’s hectic schedule took another twist over the Christmas holidays when it was announced that Serena was engaged to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian – ushering in another new chapter in her life. The pair met completely by accident in Rome and returned to the same restaurant for Ohanian’s romantic proposal.
However, it would be wrong to think that Serena is due to quit tennis for family life, as she is still at the very much at the top of
Of course family is something that has been central to Serena’s success and something she has constantly had to handle. Playing alongside your sister in a doubles match is completely different to playing against her in a major final.
And that’s what happened for the first time back in 2001 at the US Open. Venus ran out winner that day, as she tended to do at that stage of their careers. However, the following year, at the French Open, Serena was to get her revenge, with a straight sets victory over her sister.
“Tennis is just a game, family is forever,” said Serena. “Family’s first and that’s what matters most. We realize that our love goes deeper than the tennis game.”
Family has always been a feature of the Williams sisters’ story, with their father, Richard, being instrumental in their success.
Serena has three half-sisters – Yetunde, Lyndrea and Isha Price – as well as full sister Venus. Serena started playing tennis at the age of three and her father home-schooled both Serena and Venus while also becoming their official coach alongside mother Oracene.
The family moved to Florida to further the girls’ obvious talents and they attended a tennis academy until the ninth grade, when Richard decided to take on all coaching duties himself.
Serena’s first professional match was in September 1995 but it wasn’t until 1997 that she made an impact. At the Ameritech Cup Chicago, Serena – ranked outside the top 300 – beat world number 7 Mary Pierce and then number 4 Monica Seles, before losing to number 5 Lindsay Davenport in the semi finals. Serena had arrived.
Serena broke into the top 10 in 1999, winning her first professional singles title when she beat Amelie Mauresmo in the Open Gaz de France. And it just got better from then onwards. On her way to the US Open final she beat Kim Clijsters, Conchita Martinez, Monica Seles and defending champion Lindsay Davenport, before beating Martina Hingis to lift the trophy. Serena and Venus also won the doubles at the US Open, with Serena finishing the year ranked world number 4.
Perhaps the most incredible period was in 2002/03, where the Williams sisters played against each other in four consecutive Grand Slam finals, with Serena winning all of them.
But then injury and eight months out of the game saw Serena drop as low as 95 in the rankings, with some commentators wondering if the Williams sisters era was over. However, like all truly great champions, Serena came back. – time and time again.
A testament to Serena’s fitness and dedication, she first hit the top of the world rankings back in 2002, and as recently as the 2014-15 season held all four Major titles. In total, Serena has spent 300 weeks at the top of the rankings, compared to just 11 weeks for Venus. But that isn’t to pour scorn on Venus’ record – merely to highlight the incredible achievements of her younger
With Serena once again seemingly back to her best, there’s nothing to stop her rising to the top of the rankings. Her 22 Grand Slam wins puts Serena equal with Steffi Graf in the Open Era. Few people would bet against Williams surpassing that milestone in 2017. So what is her secret? “I just never give up,” she said. “I fight to the end. You can’t go out and say ‘I want a bag of never-say-die spirit’. It’s not for sale. It has to be innate.”