Serena Jameka Williams (born September 26, 1981) is an American professional tennis player and former world No. 1 in women’s single tennis. She has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most by any player in the Open Era, and the second-most of all time behind Margaret Court (24). The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ranked her world No. 1 in singles on eight separate occasions between 2002 and 2017. She reached the No. 1 ranking for the first time on July 8, 2002. On her sixth occasion, she held the ranking for 186 consecutive weeks, tying the record set by Steffi Graf. In total, she has been No. 1 for 319 weeks, which ranks third in the Open Era among female players behind Graf and Martina Navratilova.
Williams holds the most Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles combined among active players. Her 39 Grand Slam titles put her joint-third on the all-time list and second in the Open Era: 23 in singles, 14 in women’s doubles, and two in mixed doubles. She is the most recent female player to have held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously (2002–03 and 2014–15) and the third player to achieve this twice, after Rod Laver and Graf. She is also the most recent player to have won a Grand Slam title on each surface (hard, clay and grass) in one calendar year (2015). She is also, together with her older sister Venus, the most recent player to have held all four Grand Slam women’s doubles titles simultaneously (2009–10).
Williams has won a record of 13 Grand Slam singles titles on hard court. Williams holds the Open Era record for most titles won at the Australian Open (7) and shares the Open Era record for most titles won at the US Open with Chris Evert (6). She also holds the record for the most women’s singles matches won at majors with 351 matches.
Williams has won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles, all her sister Venus, and the pair are unbeaten in Grand Slam doubles finals. As a team, she and Venus have the third most women’s doubles Grand Slam titles, behind the 18 titles of Natasha Zvereva (14 with Gigi Fernández) and the record 20 titles won by Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver. Williams is also a five-time winner of the WTA Tour Championships in the singles division. She has also won four Olympic gold medals, one in women’s singles and three in women’s doubles—an all-time record shared with her sister, Venus. The arrival of the Williams sisters has been credited with ushering in a new era of power and athleticism on the women’s professional tennis tour. She is ranked at No. 9 in the world by the WTA as of March 2, 2020.
Earning almost $29 million in prize money and endorsements, Williams was the highest paid female athlete in 2016. She repeated this feat in 2017 when she was the only woman on Forbes’ list of the 100 highest paid athletes with $27 million in prize money and endorsements. She has won the ‘Laureus Sportswoman of the Year’ award four times (2003, 2010, 2016, 2018), and in December 2015, she was named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated magazine. In 2019, she was ranked 63rd in Forbes’ World’s Highest-Paid Athletes list.
Williams was born in Saginaw, Michigan, to Oracene Price and Richard Williams, and is the youngest of Price’s five daughters: half-sisters Yetunde, Lyndrea, and Isha Price, and full older sister Venus. She also has at least seven paternal half-siblings. When the children were young, the family moved to Compton, California, where Williams started playing tennis at the age of four. Her father home schooled Serena and her sister, Venus. While he and subsequently her mother have been the official coaches, other mentors who helped her learn the game included Richard Williams, a Compton man who shared her father’s name and would go on to found The Venus and Serena Williams Tennis/Tutorial Academy.
When Williams was nine, she and her family moved from Compton to West Palm Beach, Florida, so that she could attend the tennis academy of Rick Macci; Macci began to provide additional coaching. Macci did not always agree with Williams’s father, but respected that “he treated his daughters like kids, allowed them to be little girls”. Richard stopped sending his daughters to national junior tennis tournaments when Williams was 10 since he wanted them to go slowly and to focus on school work. Experiences of racism also drove this experience, as Richard Williams had heard white parents talk about the Williams sisters in a derogatory manner during tournaments. At that time, Williams had a 46–3 record on the United States Tennis Association junior tour and was ranked number one among under-10 players in Florida. In 1995, when Williams was in the ninth grade, her father pulled his daughters out of Macci’s academy and, from then on, took over all coaching at their home. When asked in 2000 whether having followed the normal path of playing regularly on the junior circuit would have been beneficial, Williams responded: “Everyone does different things. I think for Venus and I, we just attempted a different road, and it worked for us.”
Williams is hailed by many coaches, players and sportscasters to be one of the best female tennis players of the Open Era. In 2018, a Tennis.com panel selected Serena as the greatest female tennis player in the Open Era. Her numerous victories on court have largely been a positive influence on young girls and boys who see Williams as a role model and an ambassador of tennis. However, there is a sizable percentage of people who disagree. Some commentators, players and sports writers regard Williams as the greatest female tennis player of all time.
Since winning an Open Era-record 23 Grand Slam titles, pundits have discussed Williams’ potential to surpass the all-time record of 24 titles held by Margaret Court.
For their first match of March 2019, the women of the United States women’s national soccer team each wore a jersey with the name of a woman they were honoring on the back; Crystal Dunn chose the name of Serena Williams.
On December 29, 2019, The Associated Press named Williams Female Athlete of the Decade for the 2010s.
Williams is married to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Ohanian proposed to Williams on December 10, 2016 in Rome. On December 30, 2016, Williams announced her engagement to Ohanian in a Reddit post. They were married on November 16, 2017, in New Orleans. Guests at the wedding included Beyoncé, Anna Wintour, Kelly Rowland and Kim Kardashian West. She planned to move to San Francisco with Ohanian after the wedding.
On April 19, 2017, Williams posted a sideways picture of herself on Snapchat that focused on her midsection. It had the caption, “20 weeks”, sparking speculation that Williams was pregnant. Later that evening, her spokesperson confirmed that the couple was expecting. The fact that she was 20 weeks pregnant when announcing her pregnancy meant that she was 8 weeks pregnant when she won the Australian Open in January. Serena later confirmed that posting the photo on Snapchat was an accident and that she had intended to save the photo for her records.
In September 2017, Williams gave birth to a daughter. Williams had an emergency cesarean-section delivery due to her daughter’s heart rate dropping during labor and was at first devastated about it. She suffered a pulmonary embolism after giving birth, leaving her bedridden for six weeks and delaying her return to training. (This encounter was not her first with the disease venous thromboembolism; she was hospitalized in 2011 for pulmonary embolism thought to have originated from a deep vein thrombosis.) In August 2018, Williams announced she was suffering from postpartum depression. Williams gave her daughter a doll, Qai Qai, that has become famous on social media.
Williams was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, but says she has “never really practiced it.” She often thanks Jehovah after winning matches. Williams confirmed that she follows some practices: “Olympia doesn’t celebrate birthdays. We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, so we don’t do that.”