American professional tennis player Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and several Olympic gold medals.
Born in 1981 in Saginaw, Michigan, Serena Williams began intensive tennis training at age 3. She won her first major championship in 1999 and completed the career Grand Slam in 2003. Along with her record-breaking individual success, Williams has teamed with sister Venus to win a series of doubles titles. In 2017, she won her 23rd Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, defeating her older sister Venus in the Australian Open. With her 23rd win, the tennis superstar surpassed Steffi Graf’s record and captured the world number one ranking.
American tennis player Serena Jameka Williams was born on September 26, 1981, in Saginaw, Michigan. The youngest of Richard and Oracene Williams’s five daughters, Serena Williams, along with her sister Venus, would grow up to become one of the sport’s great champions.
Serena’s father—a former sharecropper from Louisiana determined to see his two youngest girls succeed—used what he’d gleaned from tennis books and videos to instruct Serena and Venus on how to play the game. At the age of 3, practicing on a court not far from the family’s new Compton, California, home, Serena withstood the rigors of daily two-hour practices from her father.
The fact that the family had relocated to Compton was no accident. With its high rate of gang activity, Richard Williams wanted to expose his daughters to the ugly possibilities of life “if they did not work hard and get an education.” In this setting, on courts that were riddled with potholes and sometimes missing nets, Serena and Venus cut their teeth on the game of tennis and the requirements for persevering in a tough climate.
By 1991, Serena was 46-3 on the junior United States Tennis Association tour, and ranked first in the 10-and-under division. Sensing his girls needed better instruction to become successful professionals, he moved his family again—this time to Florida. There, Richard let go of some of his coaching responsibilities, but not the management of Serena’s and Venus’s career. Wary of his daughters burning out too quickly, he scaled back their junior tournament schedule.
In 1995, Serena turned pro. Two years later, she was already No. 99 in the world rankings—up from No. 304 just 12 months before. A year later, she graduated high school, and almost immediately inked a $12 million shoe deal with Puma. In 1999, she beat out her sister in their race to the family’s first Grand Slam win, when she captured the U.S. Open title.
It set the stage for a run of high-powered, high-profile victories for both Williams sisters. With their signature style and play, Venus and Serena changed the look of their sport as well. Their sheer power and athletic ability overwhelmed opponents, and their sense of style and presence made them standout celebrities on the court.
In 2002, Serena won the French Open, the U.S. Open, and Wimbledon, defeating Venus in the finals of each tournament. She captured her first Australian Open in 2003, making her one of only six women in the Open era to complete a career Grand Slam. The win also fulfilled her desire to hold all four major titles simultaneously to comprise what she’d dubbed “The Serena Slam.” In 2008, she won the U.S. Open and teamed with Venus to capture a second women’s doubles Olympic gold medal at the Beijing Games.
But Serena also had her scrapes and losses. She underwent knee surgery in August 2003, and in September her half-sister Yetunde Price was murdered in Los Angeles, California. Three years later, Serena seemed burned out. Bitten by injuries, and just a general lack of motivation to stay fit or compete at the same level she once had, Serena saw her tennis ranking slump to 139.
Serena credited her faith as a Jehovah’s Witness, as well as a life-changing journey she made to West Africa for renewing her pride and competitive fire. By 2009, Williams had released a new autobiography, Queen of the Court, and won her place back atop the world’s rankings, winning both the 2009 Australian Open singles (for the fourth time) and Wimbledon 2009 singles (for the third time). She also won the doubles matches at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon that year.
But not everything went smoothly. Williams made headlines in September of that year, when she blasted a lineswomen for a foot-fault called near the end of a semifinal loss to eventual champion Kim Clijsters at the U.S. Open. The profanity-laced outburst included finger pointing and, according to the lineswoman, an alleged threat from Serena against her life.
Williams downplayed what happened, refuting the allegation that she’d threatened the woman. But the incident did not go over well with the tennis viewing public, nor the U.S. Tennis Association, which fined her $10,000 on the spot. Two months later, she was placed on two-year probation and ordered to pay another $82,500 to the Grand Slam committee for the episode, the largest punishment ever levied against a tennis player.
By early 2010, however, Serena was doing her best to move past the incident. Sure enough, that year she won the Australian Open singles and doubles matches, as well as her fourth Wimbledon singles championship.
In 2011, Williams suffered a series of health scares, after doctors found a blood clot in one of her lungs, which kept her away from tennis for several months. Following several procedures, including one to remove a hematoma, speculation rose as to whether Williams would retire from the sport. Her health had improved by September 2011, however, and Williams looked like her old dominant self at the U.S. Open before falling to Samantha Stosur in the finals.
The close-knit sisters lived together for more than a dozen years in a gated Palm Beach Gardens enclave in Florida, but they went their separate ways after Serena bought a mansion in nearby Jupiter in December 2013.
In December 2016, Williams became engaged to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who goes by the handle name “Kn0thing” on the site. In April 2017, Williams hinted that she was pregnant in a post on Snapchat showing her baby belly with the caption “20 weeks.” The Snapchat was deleted a few minutes after posting. In fact, Williams was pregnant and gave birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. on September 1st. She posted a photo with her baby on Instagram and shared the journey of her pregnancy in a video posted on her website and on YouTube.