Tennis living legend Serena Williams shocked the world when she posted and quickly deleted a Snapchat post announcing that she is 20 weeks pregnant. While most people responded with jubilation at the announcement, there were some who took her pregnancy as a sign that she was on her way to retirement at the apparently ripe old age of 35.
As someone who has watched Serena Williams evolve from the sister of Venus to the greatest tennis player ever (yeah, I said it), I am here to tell anyone who thinks that pregnancy is going to stop her from achieving more success on the court that they are beyond delusional.
Let’s just take a look at all of the adversity that Serena has faced throughout her 20-plus year career.
Serena Emerges From Venus’s Shadow
Back in 1997, Serena was a mere footnote in the story of Venus Williams, who was in the midst of going from a child prodigy to a full-fledged adult phenom on the WTA circuit. It was Venus who demanded the headlines, who everyone saw as the transformational figure that emerged from the legacy laid by the likes of Althea Gibson, Zina Garrison, and, of course, Arthur Ashe.
Two decades ago, Serena had a dismal world ranking of 304. Nobody was thinking about her and then BOOM! – she knocks out two top-10 players in a tournament (Mary Pierce and Monica Seles). Suddenly, the world notices that maybe, just maybe, Venus’s little sister might be someone to watch.
Cut to just two years later and Serena begins racking up singles titles left and right, culminating in a stunning victory over then No. 1 Martina Hingis at the U.S. Open.
Serena Faces Injuries, Racism, and The Death of Her Sister
After her 1999 U.S. Open win, Serena became a solid top-10 player, but injuries prevented her from being a consistent force on the women’s circuit. Then, in 2001, she began to face a series of professional and personal setbacks that would have broken most athletes. However, Serena emerged stronger and on a destined path to greatness.
In 2001, Venus and Serena were set to go head to head in a semifinal at a tournament at Indian Wells, California. Elena Dementieva, fresh off of a loss against Venus in a quarterfinal, decided to be a hater and speak about the long-rumored, yet unsubstantiated claim that the sister’s father/coach Richard Williams fixed their matches.
When Venus withdrew from the semifinal match, Serena faced tremendous scrutiny that culminated in her being booed and subjected to overt racist remarks from the crowd when she defeated Kim Clijsters in the final match.
That experience prompted both Venus and Serena to boycott Indian Wells for years.
Serena’s dominance on the court continued. She earned her first “Serena Slam.” With each tournament win, she seemed unstoppable and then came the shocking murder of her sister Yetunde Price in 2003.
The death of her sister coupled with a series of devastating injuries left Serena with a reputation for being wildly inconsistent on the court. Although she had talent and an awe-inspiring work ethic, she was consistently labeled as someone that didn’t have the drive to compete. That reputation stuck with Serena until fairly recently when she joined forces with coach Patrick Mouratoglou and began her drive towards the most Grand Slams in the Open era.
Serena Faces An Avalanche of Criticism
One critique that Serena consistently faced was that she relied on power while other players used intelligence and strategy. This criticism has always struck me as the most racially motivated of all. To some, Serena will always just be some muscular force who simply overpowers opponents.
To this day, Serena continues to be maligned and called masculine simply because she doesn’t fit some outdated vision of what a woman athlete should like. The staggering amount of discipline it takes to achieve a body like Serena’s is rarely mentioned in discussions on her game, and in that silence is the implicit notion that she somehow has an advantage due to African ancestry.
In an interview with Common, Serena spoke at length about the frustrations she experienced when not getting the credit due for the intelligence behind her dominating play, as well as her confidence.
From the 1936 Olympics to today, there is an overwhelming narrative that exists about black athletes in the media. Credit is always given for physical prowess and little else. Serena Williams is someone who not only challenges that point of view, but she turns that racist notion on its and head and exposes the idiocy of it.
You don’t get to where Serena has gotten in her career without being the smartest person at all times. She anticipates her opponent’s every move with a precision the game has never seen and quite possibly will never see again.
Serena’s level of dominance doesn’t just happen because she lucked out genetically.
In recent years, analysts have finally begun to acknowledge that Serena possesses a finesse and skill on the court, but a disproportionate level of credit is given to Patrick Mouratoglou. Yes, he certainly has helped her to refine her level of play and mindset, but at the end of the day, she is the one on the court playing.
When you look back on Serena’s still-vital career and all of the challenges she has faced, how could anyone actually believe that her pregnancy news means that she is done with tennis? How could anyone think that this superwoman from Compton, California, is incapable of simultaneously being a mother and a world-class athlete?
I will admit that Serena’s pregnancy news is a shock and that it will most certainly delay her overtaking Margaret Court as the all-time Women’s Grand-Slam recipient, but it won’t stop her from doing it.
Until very recently, Roger Federer faced a career slump that lasted years, and I don’t recall anyone saying that he should just quit now and go be a father. No, people cheered him on and encouraged him to keep fighting through mediocre play.
Just like her sister Venus, who is on track to play well into her 40s, Serena defies what it means to be an aging athlete every day. To think that pregnancy will cause her to retire right as she is on the precipice of breaking what was thought to be an unbreakable record is stupid, to say the least.
If ever there was an athlete that knows how to multitask, it is Serena Williams. I can only imagine that motherhood will kick her ability to juggle multiple things at once into complete overdrive.
With news from Reuters confirming that Serena will indeed return to tennis after sitting out this year to become a mother, I believe that she will transform how we view athletes who are parents. So for all of the folks out there ready to write Serena’s career postmortem, please remember this: whether you like it or not, she ain’t going anywhere.
I look forward to seeing how Serena’s next incredible chapter with a new baby will play out.
[Featured Image by Dita Alangkara/AP Images]