Serena J Williams

Week 184 (22 - 28 April)

No matter what gender they are, nation they were born in or sport they play, every young athlete in the world should look to Serena Williams as a role model.

Serena is a once in a generation athlete - a true tennis great. She has provided endless hours of entertainment on court, demonstrated her incredible grit and determination to the world, and displayed a rare talent for the sport. All of this has contributed to her irresistible appeal; yet what makes her truly special is not her record-breaking success, but how she has used this success as a platform to fight for equality.

Since she accidentally revealed her pregnancy to the world via Snapchat last week, Serena has been a daily subject of news. The world was shocked to hear that when Serena broke Steffi Graf’s Open Era Grand Slam record at the Australian Open, she had done so whilst 10 weeks pregnant. Even for Serena, this was as an extraordinary achievement. And whilst the majority of the world commended her for surprising us with yet more brilliance, a small few chose to use the news as an opportunity to attack the sporting great.

Most notably, outspoken tennis figure Ilie Nastase’s uncalled for comments were at best a misguided joke and at worst an intentional racist attack. What was striking, yet concurrently unsurprising, was Serena’s dignified response to his comments, communicating a clear message of confidence, strength and defiance - traits that have defined Serena’s career.

Posting a message on her Instagram page, Serena said: “I felt it was important for us to stand up for each other and to stand up for myself ... it was really important for me to say 'I'm not afraid, I'm not going anywhere… I have said it once and I’ll say it again, this world has come so far but yet we have so much further to go. Yes we have broken down so many barriers - however there are a plethora more to go. This or anything will not stop me from pouring love, light and positivity into everything that I do. I will continue to take a lead and stand up for what’s right.’”

Throughout her career, Serena has used her status as one of the best athletes in the world to advocate equality, not just in sport, but in all walks of life. She has fought strongly for equal pay, and was once quoted as saying: “Will I have to explain to my daughter that her brother is gonna make more money doing the exact same job because he’s a man?” She has also been a powerful voice on racial equality, using her rare status as a black female tennis player to her advantage: “I’m a black woman, and I am in a sport that wasn’t really meant for black people.”

The perfect example of Serena’s highly admirable attitude came in response to a reporter’s question during a 2016 Wimbledon press conference. The unsuspecting reporter asked her how she felt about the fact that people were calling her one of the “greatest female athletes of all time." Her reply: "I prefer the words 'one of the greatest athletes of all time.'” This powerful message sums up what Serena is all about.

In the same vein, she spoke at length last year about the importance of women raising each other up, saying: “My goal is to inspire every woman out there… My new saying for the past few years has been, 'The success of one woman should be the inspiration for the next.’”

A career filled with brilliance on the court and inspirational communication off it, Serena’s legacy will go far beyond what the record books say she has achieved.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons