(July 31, 2012 – Source: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe)
It all began in an L.A ghetto, on the public courts of Compton, California. Under the watchful eye of a determined African American father, a talented girl started making her way up the junior tennis ranks in America and 20 odd years down the road, we have one of the greatest champions ever to have played this sport. This is the story of Serena Williams. Her talent, success and physical ability are undeniable, but along the road she has faced her share of adversity, problems and controversies.
Growing up in a hardscrabble neighborhood amidst gang violence, Serena and her sister, Venus did not have it easy. Falling prey to racism and getting scrutinized over their father’s unorthodox approach to tennis did not stop these sisters from reaching the pinnacle of the women’s game. Serena skipped the ITF junior circuit and made her professional debut in 1995 and, ever since her first appearance on the circuit, she has been a force to reckon with. Blessed with one of the fastest deliveries in the women’s game, powerful ground strokes and great mental steel, she cracked the top 10 for the first time in 1999. Indeed, when she lifted the US Open trophy that year, she entered the history books by becoming only the second African American woman after Althea Gibson to win a Grand Slam singles title. This was only the start of greater things to come.
Her Grand Slam resume is second to none. Termed as one of the greatest players of her generation by most tennis experts, Serena is continuing to add to her already sizeable trophy cabinet. Ranked number one in the world on six separate occasions, she has managed to amass a total of 32 Grand Slam titles, 17 in singles, 13 in women’s doubles and two in mixed doubles, the most amongst any presently active player. Winner of four Olympic gold medals, she holds the distinction of being the first player in history, male or female, to win the career Golden Slam in both singles and doubles.
On her way to glory Serena has, time and again, been hampered by injury woes which have impeded her progress. Long injury lay-offs and tournament pull-outs have been far too common. In July 2010, in a freak accident, Williams cut her foot while stepping onto broken glass at a restaurant in Munich and received multiple stitches. Subsequently the cut turned out to be a serious injury, required surgery and prevented her from playing for the remainder of 2010. Staying out of action led Serena to concede her number one ranking to the Dane, Caroline Wozniacki. If all of this was not reason enough for concern, a life threatening, mystery illness made matters worse. Serena was diagnosed with blood clots in her lungs and, when questioned about it, she admits that she was on her ‘death bed, quite literally.’
Tragedy struck the Williams family in 2003, when Serena’s eldest half-sister, Yetunde Price was shot dead in the crime-ridden Los Angeles suburb that the family had otherwise left years ago. Following the shock of her sister’s sad demise and due to an ongoing knee problem, Serena went through a patch of inconsistent performances and poor results, raising questions about her downfall. But if there is one thing we have learnt about Serena over the years, is that you can never count her out. She snuffed out all doubts by getting back in the winner’s circle at the 2005 Australian Open. It is a true testament to the character and sheer strength of Williams that on many occasions she has managed to come out of adversity and proved her critics wrong.
Throughout her career Serena has been at the heart of controversy. More recently, at the 2011 US Open final against Australia’s Samantha Stosur, Williams’ “Come on!” during play led to a point penalty being awarded against her on the basis of USTA’s deliberate hindrance rule. Serena did not win many fans through her gestures, unflattering comments and unsportsmanlike conduct towards the chair umpire, declining to shake her hand after the match. In another controversial U.S Open match in 2009, playing against Kim Clijsters, Serena verbally assaulted a lineswoman, aggressively threatening her over a foot fault call. She was charged with a hefty fine the following day and put on a two-year probation.
Whether it is on court or off, Serena rarely ever shies away from the spotlight. With an attempt at an acting career, running her own fashion line and modeling for Sports Illustrated, Serena has been criticized for her lack of focus towards the game. It is, perhaps, due to this multifaceted lifestyle that she has evaded the prospect of a tennis burnout, which is faced by many of the other female players. All these distractions have, most probably, been responsible for the longevity of her career.
Now, aged 32, and playing the tennis of her life, who knows how many more Grand Slam titles she has still got in her. Provided she remains healthy and motivated, we can depend on Serena to be around for some more time continuing to pulverize her opponents with her distinct brand of aggression.