Bethany Qualls is a writer and researcher with a background in journalism and editing. She’s written on everything from handmade ceramics to translation localization, taxidermy to finance, though frequently not under her own name. Her passion is to help people harness the power of words, no matter the context.
Serena Williams’ Unapologetic Greatness
What lasting growth and success really mean in sports and business
“I love making history,” Serena Williams, tennis player extraordinaire, told Harper’s Bazaar UK. Even though she lost to Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon 2018, her tennis ranking quickly soared back to 11th in the world, up from 15th the previous season. While she has lately been plagued by injury and has withdrawn from several major tournaments, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone disagreeing that she’s one of tennis’s greatest of all time.
Yet statistics are just part of Serena’s story. To truly answer the question, “Who is Serena Williams?,” we must dig deeper into her story, her legacy and her unstoppable winning mindset.
Who is Serena Williams?
Serena Williams is a tennis player who is widely considered one of the best in the sport. She was born in Saginaw, Michigan and soon moved to Compton, California, where her parents home-schooled her and began coaching her in tennis. She quickly showed promise, and the family moved to West Palm Beach, Florida when she was nine so that she could continue her training.
Her accomplishments began young: By age ten, her record on the United States Tennis Association junior tour was an astonishing 46–3. She went pro in October 1995 – and promptly lost in the first round. But that was just the beginning of who Serena Williams, tennis player great, would become.
How old is Serena Williams?
Serena Williams was born on September 26, 1981 and recently celebrated her 40th birthday.
What has Serena Williams accomplished?
As a singles tennis player, Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles, more than any other athlete – female or male – during the open era. She has also won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles along with her sister Venus, as well as three gold medals in doubles at the Olympics.
Serena has also spent the third-longest number of weeks as the top-ranked tennis player in the world: 319 weeks, to be exact. Between 2002 and 2017, she was ranked number one eight times and held the top spot for 186 weeks between February 2013 and September 2016.
While many people are aware only of Serena Williams’ tennis accomplishments, her life off the court is also characterized by overcoming great odds. After nearly dying of a pulmonary embolism during the birth of her daughter, she spent six weeks recovering – then got up and played at Wimbledon. In a 2018 article, her agent Jill Smoller summed up “Who is Serena Williams?” perfectly, saying “10 months ago, she was almost dead. [Then] she gave birth, and now she’s playing in a Wimbledon final.”
Beyond tennis, Serena Williams is also involved in business and giving back. She has signed fashion deals with Puma and Nike and currently has her own lines of designer apparel, Aneres, and sustainable clothing, S by Serena. Through her charities the Williams Sisters Fund and the Serena Williams Foundation, she has contributed to building schools, community centers and resource centers, and funded scholarships for underprivileged students.
How to cultivate Serena Williams’ tennis mindset
Serena looks to keep surpassing herself with her accomplishments – and her mindset of a champion translates from sports to every other part of life. Here are six ways you can cultivate a winning mindset like Serena, even if you’re not the tennis GOAT or Greatest of All Time).
1. Build winning routines
“Repetition is the mother of skill,” Tony Robbins says. The importance of rituals – whether that’s how you start your day or what you practice every day – is that they condition us into certainty. Doing something over and over means you stop thinking about it, making the action second nature.
In business, constant optimization means you need a routine that focuses on your desired outcomes and the steps to get you there. Whether doubling your lead generation or sales conversions, increasing profits or other goals, having tangible outcomes and a plan to get there is a must. A smart routine looks something like this: understand where you are, create goals, plan and then execute strategies to reach your goals, evaluate progress and then adjust if needed. A company culture of constant improvement makes for a surefire winning routine that will last for the long haul.
2. Change the rules to reflect today’s reality, not yesterday’s
Who is Serena Williams? At her core, she’s a change maker. Serena won the Australian Open in 2017 while two months pregnant. She could easily have decided to call her career at age 36 and retired to rest on her laurels. But instead, she’s amplified a conversation about how mothers returning to the court are treated – and helped change the U.S. Open’s seeding protocol.
Now players who have taken pregnancy-related breaks from the game won’t be penalized for the absence, making the process more similar to a CEO taking leave to have a baby: when she returns to the company, she doesn’t start over at the bottom. (Serena’s 13-month hiatus from the game saw her ranking slide from No. 1 in the world to No. 454 because she wasn’t playing).
As tennis players like Serena Williams play longer, more women will likely have children before they retire. Understanding changes like these are equally key for business owners to stay ahead of their competition. You need to anticipate changes in the culture, like the shift to digital streaming for movies and music instead of owning physical copies, as well as changes in your clients’ lives, like parenthood (just two of Tony’s seven business triggers). If you play by yesterday’s playbook, you’re sure to lose.
3. Own what makes you (and others) great
During a Wimbledon press conference, a reporter asked Serena if it’s hard being “the one to beat” because everyone who plays her brings their A-game to the court. “I’m glad someone admitted that,” Williams responded. “But yeah, every single match I play, whether I’m coming back from a baby, or surgery, it doesn’t matter, because these young ladies bring a game that I’ve never seen before.”
“That’s what makes me great. I always play everyone at their greatest, so I have to be greater.”
Whether it’s recognizing Roger Federer as a fellow GOAT or calling out journalists who gave her grief on her performance, Serena refuses to apologize for her success. She acknowledges competitors without tearing them down, using her platform to amplify success across the board.
“Even if my goals are outrageous, totally insane, I’d rather reach for the sky,” she’s explained. Serena understands that celebrating success helps you become even more successful. That her accomplishments as Serena Williams in tennis translate into other successes off of it. The same goes for you and your business: create a cycle of success and you’ll be able to tap into infinite potential.
4. Diversify, diversify, diversify
Smart investors know the importance of diversifying. So does Serena. Besides her over $86 million in career prize money and slew of endorsement deals, she’s started a fashion line, invested in multiple companies, started philanthropic initiatives and produced an HBO series called Being Serena. Not only is she building her brand beyond tennis, she’s also worked to make a money machine that’s working for her 24/7.
5. Know that winning isn’t everything, even as you keep winning
Despite all her titles and fame as a tennis player, Serena Williams also understands the secret of true wealth: being able to live in freedom. After she almost died giving birth, she turned the experience into a way to advocate for others, urging people to support UNICEF’s efforts to improve conditions for women and newborns across the world.
“I had to have multiple surgeries, and I almost didn’t make it,” Serena said of her post-delivery trauma. “I remember I couldn’t even walk to my mailbox, so it’s definitely not normal for me to be in a Wimbledon final. So I’m taking everything as it is and just enjoying every moment.”
6. Understand why you are the way you are
Serena Williams, tennis superstar, mother of four year old daughter Alexis Olympia, voice for the underprivileged and fashion icon, has always embraced who she really is. She credits her inner wild child as her driving force on the road to becoming a 23-time Grand Slam champion, mentioned in her interview with ABC News’ Good Morning America for Mother’s Day.
“For me, being wild is about showing your curiosity, which I find to be very important in discovering who you are,”
As she grows in her career and influence she keeps her top human need in mind – with this understanding, she is able to take control over her life’s direction and inevitably lead herself to lasting fulfillment. By embracing her number one human need of Variety, Serena is able to make empowering, positive shifts. Recently, Serena partnered with Pampers to help other Mothers embrace their own “inner wild child” in a new program called “Born to Be Wild.”
“Serena embodies what it means to be active and spirited, and is instilling this in her daughter – which is why we are so excited to welcome her to the Pampers family to help show everyone that what some may see as wild, we see as a naturally active and growing child,” said Andre Schulten, Vice President and General Manager Baby Care North America, Procter & Gamble.
Serena’s mastered the science of achievement along with the art of fulfillment, finding joy in her daughter, family and friends, as well as continuing to give wherever she can.