Serena Williams: How tennis rewrote the rules of the game for maternity athletes

The 23-time Grand Slam winner was photographed on a sunset beach wearing a Balenciaga gown, Olympia’s face peeking out from the ponytail of her powder blue dress.

“If I were a young man, I wouldn’t write this because I would have been there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family.

“I’ve been reluctant to admit to myself or anyone else that I should move on from playing tennis,” she added.

Williams expressed emotional turmoil in making the decision to grow her family and giving up her dedication to her sport – a predicament many professional female athletes face throughout their athletic careers.

“The pain in the article Serena talked about, people don’t realize it, and I’m glad she’s been so vocal about it,” Team USA heptathlon player Lindsey Flach said in the opening scenes of the new CNN movie, Serena Williams: On Her Terms.

“People don’t realize that sometimes you have to … choose motherhood over athletics.

“It’s hard to choose between one or the other. It’s definitely hard to do both.”

Play against the odds

Early in her career, Williams learned to thrive in circumstances that were not designed for her to succeed, as a black athlete.

Born in September 1981 in Saginaw, Michigan and raised in Compton, California, Williams grew up with her two older sisters, Venus, Lyndria, Esha Waitand, and mother, Oracien Price. Her father, Richard Williams, started coaching her and Venus when the duo were young.

“Venus and Serena, with the help of their father, knowingly or unknowingly entered tennis without an apology. Black girls play in this white world,” journalist Carrie Champion told CNN during the documentary.

“He felt that if he could teach his daughters that this world of white tennis is not your friend, and if you could thrive in this world under all circumstances, given the worst and the best, you could do anything in life.”

Serena Williams with her father Richard Williams and sister Venus.

As the two sisters’ tennis abilities flourished, so did the hype surrounding their nascent careers.

In 1990, Venus became the highest-rated player under the age of 12 in Southern California, landing on the cover of The New York Times and the pages of Sports Illustrated.

In 1991, the family moved to Florida, where the sisters trained for the first time with professional coaches. After playing tennis away from the junior circuit for several years, Williams became a professional when she was 14, a year after Venus.

new era

During her rapid rise to one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Williams has proven that she has the willpower to overcome many professional and personal challenges.

In 1999, 18-year-old Williams stunned world number one Martina Hingis in the US Open final to win her first major title, ushering in a new era.

“It’s really great news,” Williams said in a post-match interview. “I’m doing really well, and it’s good news for minorities and just a different group of people to watch tennis and watch tennis in different lights.”

Williams accepts the trophy after defeating Martina Hingis in the US Open final.

She became World No. 1 for the first time in her career at the age of 20, after defeating defending champion Venus in the 2002 Wimbledon final. She then achieved her first “Serena Slam” by winning all her Grand Slam titles from 2002 to 2003.

But while she and her family have been subjected to racist abuse – most notably in 2001 Indian Wells Final They also mourned the death of her older sister, Ytonde Prince, who was murdered in Compton in 2003.

In 2006, Williams took a break from tennis and dropped out of the top 100 in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings.

Serena Williams has done it all in tennis, but there's a lot more to come

And entered the Australian Open in 2007 ranked 81st, according to the official website of the tournament. Despite her persistence, she remained undefeated and defeated Maria Sharapova in the final in 63 minutes, winning 6-1, 6-2.

In the coming years, Williams added to her Grand Slam victories tally, winning her third consecutive US Open title in September 2014, and her seventh Wimbledon title in 2016, tying Steffi Graf for the most singles titles in the Open Era.

was burning

As Williams entered the third decade of her career, her next goal was to break Graf’s record for the most singles titles in the Open Era.

In 2017, she did just that by defeating Venus in the Australian Open final.

“It feels great to have 23,” Serena told reporters during a post-match press conference. “It feels really great.”

“She was on fire at this tournament. She was crushing players,” Rina Stubbs, a former professional tennis player and four-time Olympian, told CNN during the documentary.

“What I didn’t realize was that she was actually pregnant, which is unrealistic.”

Flach found herself in a similar situation to Williams when she competed in the 2021 Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, 18 weeks into her pregnancy with her son, Raylan.

“I wish it was a lot better even if I was pregnant,” Flach told CNN during the documentary. “I had no idea what was going on. I had no idea what the next step would be.”

Serena Williams with her daughter after this year's US Open.

After announcing her engagement to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in December 2016, Williams gave birth to Olympia in September 2017 – barely eight months after winning the Australian Open.

In January 2018, she spoke about the many medical experiences she had in the weeks following labor and delivery, telling Vogue: “Nobody talks about the low moments – the stress you feel, the incredible frustration every time you hear the baby crying…the feelings are crazy” .

Former softball player and Olympic medalist Jenny Finch gave birth to her first child, Ace, in May 2006. She told CNN that, like Williams, she found it difficult to deal with the wave of emotions that came with motherhood.

Finch says during the documentary.

“All these feelings are, like, the soft feelings that I feel that we’ve been asked to kind of suppress. That is, you’re facing your heart splitting in two.

“I’m so thankful that I’m still in the game, it’s still a huge part of who I am and what I do. But it’s different when the cleats really close forever.”

control her narrative

In September, Williams’ tennis career will likely come to an end after she fell to Australian Agla Tomljanovic in the third round of the US Open.

In a moment of sudden symmetry, she waved goodbye on the court as she won her first major tournament.

“I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t Venus,” she told ESPN in an on-court interview after the game. “She’s the only reason Serena Williams has ever existed.”

Throughout her illustrious career, Williams has won 73 singles titles, 23 doubles titles and two mixed doubles titles including 39 Grand Slam titles – 23 singles titles, 14 doubles titles and two mixed doubles titles. It is one of the four Grand Slam singles titles behind the record set by Australian Margaret Court.

Serena Williams'  Husband Alexis Ohanian and daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. watched a play during the first round of the 2022 US Open.

“To me, Serena is, like, a character, like, a strong athlete. Right now, she wants to focus on her family, but she’s shown everyone that you can be a mother and still be a well-performing athlete,” WNBA player Nafissa Collier tells CNN while Documentary.

From appearing in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” and receiving six Academy Award nominations for “King Richard,” to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, Williams has paved the way for black mathematics to shape multidimensional jobs.

“Growing up, I never thought I was different because, you know, the number one player in the world was someone who looked like me,” said world number 12 Coco Gauff.

“I’ve brought people who haven’t heard of tennis before into this sport, and I think I’m a product of what I’ve done,” said Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka.

Serena Williams takes a photo of the opening bell ringing on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, US, on Friday, August 26, 2022.

Looking to the future, Williams said she will be moving away from tennis to focus on her investment fund, Serena Ventures. The company has invested in 66 startups, 78% of which are started by women and people of color.

“We watched her develop into this beautiful, business-savvy young woman who is now really looking forward and making sure that her career and legacy is fully told by her,” Champion says in the documentary.

Williams once said, “At the end of the day, I am who I am and I love who I am. And I love the impact I can have on people through companies, women and people of color.”

“If I didn’t have the passion that I have on the tennis court, I wouldn’t have the passion for what I’m doing right now.”

Don’t miss the premiere of CNN’s new documentary “Serena Williams: On Her Terms” on Sunday, September 11th at 20:00 ET.

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