Serena Williams doesn’t play by the rules – and she doesn’t let her critics bring her down. Sure, she’s been the number one female tennis star in the world on eight separate occasions from 2002-2017, holds the most Grand Slam titles (23) in singles, doubles, mixed doubles among current active players, but we aren’t just in awe of her sporting prowess.
Even when she’s not speaking, Williams knows how to make a statement – we’re looking at you, Black Panther-inspired Nike catsuit that got called out and banned from the French Open (it was designed with compression elements to help prevent blood clots, a safety feature to protect Super Serena, who was at risk since her pregnancy). When Serena returned to the court post a 14-month maternity leave (her daughter, Alexis Olympia, was born on September 1, 2017), she showed that she’s not still a champion, but she’s also a mother and a human being, who’s just trying to make it all work.
Here are our favourite Serena Williams moments over the years.
Every time she wears Virgil Abloh x Nike to play
Yes, that catsuit was by Virgil Abloh – you know, the one Williams said made her feel like a “warrior princess,” which caused quite a bit of chaos and instituted a stricter dress code to be put in place at the French Open? When Serena played at the French Open again in May 2019, she showed that she’s not intimidated – and that she’s aware of how powerful her fashion choices are, collaborating with the Off-White and Louis Vuitton designer again. She wore a black and white zebra print crop top and skort - the look comes with a cape that says: “Mother, Champion, Queen, Goddess” in French.
At the 2018 US Open, she also wowed in Abloh x Nike, winning her match against Magda Linette in a black tutu and sparkly sneakers emblazoned with the words “Queen” and “Serena.” We love how Serena’s sartorial statements for each match aren’t just the most exciting outfits tennis has ever seen – they’re another way of asserting her power and showing that win or lose, she’s a champ. One who isn’t afraid to be herself and to have some fun in the process.
When she was refreshingly candid about her post-partum mental health
One of the problems that women struggle with when they become mothers is how to reconcile their own bodies, health issues and feelings with what celebrities make motherhood look like, with their flat tummies, beaming smiles and seemingly no adjustment issues despite the immense physical and mental ordeal they’ve undergone. Serena posted a heartfelt message to her Instagram account, after suffering a crumbling defeat against Johanna Konta, revealing that she’s vulnerable and struggling just like the rest of us.
“Last week was not easy for me. Not only was I accepting some tough personal stuff, but I just was in a funk. Mostly, I felt like I was not a good mom. I read several articles that said postpartum emotions can last up to three years if not dealt with. I like communication best. Talking things through with my mom, my sisters, my friends let me know that my feelings are totally normal. It’s totally normal to feel like I’m not doing enough for my baby. We have all been there. I work a lot, I train, and I’m trying to be the best athlete I can be. However, that means although I have been with her every day of her life, I’m not around as much as I would like to be. Most of you moms deal with the same thing. Whether stay-at-home or working, finding that balance with kids is a true art. You are the true heroes. I’m here to say: if you are having a rough day or week--it’s ok--I am, too!!! There’s always tomm!” she posted.
When she won her 23rd Grand Slam
The most remarkable thing about Serena winning her 23rd Grand Slam title, at the Australian Open in January 2017, wasn’t beating her sister, which was pretty memorable. It was the fact that Serena happened to be in the early stages of pregnancy for the win. Wow. Did we mention that win also ensured she’s the tennis champ who’s won the most Grand Slam titles of all time?
When she wrote this powerful essay on race and feminism for Fortune
In July 2017, Williams penned an essay on how the gender pay gap hits women of colour harder than anyone else. In one piece of writing, Williams proved she’s an activist, a feminist and an incredible role model for others, writing:
“Growing up, I was told I couldn’t accomplish my dreams because I was a woman and, more so, because of the colour of my skin. In every stage of my life, I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself and speak out. I have been treated unfairly, I’ve been disrespected by my male colleagues and – in the most painful times – I’ve been the subject of racist remarks on and off the tennis court. Luckily, I am blessed with an inner drive and a support system of family and friends that encourage me to move forward. But these injustices still hurt.
“I am in the rare position to be financially successful beyond my imagination. I had talent, I worked like crazy and I was lucky enough to break through. But today isn’t about me. It’s about the other 24 million black women in America. If I never picked up a tennis racket, I would be one of them; that is never lost on me.”
When she had a 1950s theme for her baby shower and it was the best thing ever
Because who doesn’t want to wear a poodle skirt when eight months preggers? Serena invited pals like Kelly Rowland, Eva Longoria and Ciara, among others, to celebrate her retro-themed baby shower with her and we love this small insight into what she does when she’s not training. In fact, Williams’ whole social media persona during pregnancy came across as very relatable and fun, like when she asked her followers for comfortable sleep tips or wrote her unborn daughter a letter.
When she ignited the conversation about sexism in sports
When Williams and umpire Carlos Ramos got in an altercation at the 2018 US Open about penalties, it became a global conversation about how women are treated and how women’s anger gets policed. Williams hit out at the umpire’s “sexist” code violation, remarking: “For me it blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal – like [Alize] Cornet should be able to take off her shirt without getting a fine. This is outrageous. I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions, and that want to express themselves, and want to be a strong woman. They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”
When her losses make us feel as inspired as her wins
When Williams lost in the Wimbledon final to Angelique Kerber in July 2018 – just four months after coming back to professional tennis post-baby – she fought back tears as she told the cameras: “To all the moms out there, I was playing for you today.” And, just like that, she became a hero for working moms everywhere.
Because she always makes us feel good about ourselves
Serena Williams has been outspoken about her body-positivity and how she feels strong and sexy – no matter what other people have to say about her looks. She’s an incredibly hard worker, she’s a determined fighter and she always has a smile on her face – even when she’s losing. “My smile is my favourite part of my body. I think a smile can make your whole body.” Hear, hear.