Serena Williams has become the first female athlete honored on her own by Sports Illustrated in more than 30 years. Williams was crowned Sportsperson of the Year by the magazine, which is famous for showcasing gallivanting models in its sexy annual Swimsuit Issue but not for bestowing its top honor on female athletes, as reported by the Telegram.
Thirty-four-year-old Serena Williams has broken the mold, taking the top Sports Illustrated honor at the end of a stellar year that saw the tennis star win five titles, including the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon. Williams was No. 1 in the WTA rankings all season and even came within two matches of winning a calendar-year Grand Slam. Serena fell just short of a Grand Slam, eventually losing the semifinal at the U.S. Open to Roberta Vinci.
“She was the most deserving person for the award. She had an amazing year. The way she won her events; the fact that she’s done this for so many years at such a high level. She was a terrific candidate in a year of terrific candidates.”
The last female to earn the Sports Illustrated honor was Mary Decker in 1983. SI eventually renamed the award from Sportsman of the Year to Sportsperson of the Year, according to The Grio.
An SI executive explained, “We just felt this was a natural evolution… We’re not making a huge deal out of it. It just feels like the right time to make the change.”
While she missed out on a calendar-year Grand Slam, the tennis superstar secured what has been dubbed the “Serena Slam” in the year-lapping season, and what’s more, she did this “despite injuries and illnesses,” according to the Grio.
The 34-year-old always believed her best tennis moments are ahead of her but has conceded that her stellar 2015 run, which saw her returning to Indian Wells, may be difficult to top.
“Everyone always asked, ‘What was your greatest moment in tennis?’ and I always said it hasn’t happened. But I think it has happened now, and that was going back to Indian Wells and playing. It released a lot of feelings that I didn’t even know I had. I was really surprised at how emotional I got—and how relieved I felt after everything was said and done.”
Receiving the Sports Illustrated top honor — not to mention being the catalyst for a change in the very name of the award — tops off a year of victories and deep emotion for the American.
“This year was spectacular,” Williams said in a statement.
“For Sports Illustrated to recognize my hard work, dedication and sheer determination with this award gives me hope to continue on and do better.”
Williams returned to Indian Wells in 2015 for the first time since 2001. Williams and her family reported facing racial slurs and barrages of booing from fans in attendance the last time Serena played.
Not everybody was happy with Williams’ win. Vocal horse-racing fans took to Twitter to declare their preference: American Pharaoh.
A humorous meme showing American Pharaoh responding to the Sports Illustrated “snub” also started doing the rounds.
Serena Williams beat Garbine Muguruza for her sixth Wimbledon title in 2015. It was her fourth Grand Slam championship in a row and 21st major overall.
The win at Wimbledon meant that Williams actually held all four Grand Slam titles at once for a brief period in 2015 — this was the second “Serena Slam” (as Serena-watchers have dubbed it) of her career.
Williams got to the third leg of a calendar-year Grand Slam before losing the U.S. Open. Had she won that, she would have been the first player to sweep all four majors in the same season since Steffi Graf in 1988.
[Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images]