September 1, 2013
Sports Leader Board
Most women’s tennis players are ready to retire by their mid-twenties, their dreams of championships a distant memory. Serena Williams is clearly an exception. Not only did Williams just win the French Open at the age of thirty-one (her first title at Roland Garros since 2002), but she also became the oldest player to ever hold the top ranking in the world when she regained the spot in February.
“I really believe age is a number at this point, because I have never felt so fit,” she said after the tournament. “I feel great. I look great. If I see someone that’s thirty-one, I’m like, ‘You’re old.’ Then I’m like, ‘I’m thirty-one.’ But I don’t feel it at all.”
Williams has had her share of ups and downs throughout her prolific, eighteen-year career, but it has been her recent success that has really raised eyebrows. Her victory in Paris was her sixteenth Grand Slam singles title—the sixth most of all time—but Williams has taken a long and winding road to reach this point. She began her career in 1995 at the age of fourteen, and won her first Grand Slam just four years later at the 1999 US Open. She also paired with her sister Venus to take the doubles title at the Open, the duo’s first of thirteen titles.
By 2002, Serena had truly broken onto the scene. She won three Grand Slam titles in one year and earned the world’s number-one ranking for the first time. After her win in the Australian Open the following year, she had completed what many dubbed the “Serena Slam,” achieving wins in each of the four different Grand Slam events. However, things took a turn for the worse as 2003 drew to a close. Fresh off her second consecutive win at Wimbledon, she underwent knee surgery that was supposed to keep her out for six to eight weeks. Instead, she did not return return for another eight months, causing onlookers to question her resolve.
“That story is over,” said fellow tennis pro Jelena Dokic in March 2004. “I don’t even hear comments about Serena anymore.”
Williams was rumored to be dating football star LaVarr Arrington, and her attempts at an acting and model career—as well as her newly signed $40 million fashion contract with Nike—seemed to take precedence over her rehab. She ultimately returned for the 2004 season, but failed to win a singles title for the first time since 2001, fueling doubts. Yet, she started 2005 off strong with another win in the Australian Open to reassert her dominance.
But injuries would plague her again over the next two years. Knee and ankle troubles allowed her to play in only a handful of tournaments over the course of 2006, and she eventually fell to ninety-fifth in the world rankings. She even entered the 2007 Australian Open unseeded, but managed to win the whole tournament for her eighth title overall.
“It was an awesome win because I had so many critics, so many people talking bad and saying negative things and saying I wasn’t fit,” she said after the victory.
By 2009, she had returned to the top of the rankings with another Australian victory, and proceeded to win three more Grand Slams over the next two years. In 2011, a string of ailments struck once again: Williams stepped on some broken glass in a restaurant, ending her season, and then battled a hematoma and pulmonary embolism that threatened to end her playing career. Once again, she returned with a vengeance, winning the US Open in 2012 and the French title in June. Her consistent resilience proves that Williams has never let her substantial medical history slow her down.
“It’s all about, for me, how you recover,” she said after the French Open win. “I think I’ve always said a champion isn’t about how much they win, but it’s about how they recover from their downs, whether it’s an injury or whether it’s a loss.”
Now, even Williams’ side projects seem to be earning her positive attention. The star’s net worth is already estimated at close to $100 million, but she continues to dabble in acting, and there are even rumors that she plans to release a hip-hop album in the near future. But her true greatness lies on the court. With wins in this year’s next two Grand Slam events, she could tie Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for fourth on the all-time singles titles list, and it is clear she has the drive to do so.
“I feel like I definitely want to continue my journey,” she said in Paris. “If it means I stop at sixteen or if it means I have more—I definitely want to continue my journey to get a few more.”