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Serena Williams

The passion of her stroke: Serena Williams doesn’t have  to explain anything

Why everyone should focus on her athleticism and what she’s given to tennis

Serena Williams is arguably the greatest athlete alive. Run her stats against anyone (number of championships won, length of time playing professionally, domination in the sport), and then remember: She plays in an individual sport. If she is having an off day, she has no teammates to lean on, either physically or mentally. She wins or (rarely) loses based on her performance alone. She is truly one of the best athletes America has ever had to offer.

Unfortunately, we see all too often, seemingly patriotic Americans who root against Serena on the world stage. They would rather see our entire country lose (because that is who Serena represents) than see a black woman win. While black male athletes also experience bigotry, Serena has to contend with sexism on top of racism. She is critiqued for somehow being both too masculine yet also too revealing in clothes that hug her toned physique. Famed author J.K. Rowling noted on social media how ignorant it is to say that Serena looks like a man, a common insult:

This is to say nothing of Serena being compared to a primate.

What is it about Serena that inspires such vitriol? Is it that she dominates in a sport that was once considered to be for the upper crust at country clubs? One would think that Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe had put that idea to rest decades ago. Is it that she is considered too aggressive on the court? John McEnroe and Boris Becker seem to take the prize for that. Is it because she wins too much? To hate someone merely because he or she is great only speaks to one’s own insecurity. To attempt to find fault with someone because you cannot figure out how or why they win so often only shows that you have already lost. Or is it that she is unapologetically black? A #CarefreeBlackGirl who speaks her mind, supports her people, and whose only real opponent is herself.

Serena’s wins are staggering; her play on the court cannot be equaled. Yet, Maria Sharapova is called her “rival,” though Serena’s record against her is 19-2 and Sharapova hasn’t beaten her since 2004. When not on the court, Serena has to battle body-shaming because, somehow, she is expected to be a world-class athlete without an athletic body. For instance, Serena was named Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year but her cover photo was criticized as being too racy. This is hard to fathom considering Sports Illustrated is famous for its annual swimsuit issue in which scantily clad women are photographed with barely more than seashells to cover them. But this distraction took away from the fact that Serena was just the third solo female athlete and the first black woman to ever win the award in its over 60-year history.

Serena Williams does not have to justify her dominance in sport. Her play and her wins speak for themselves. There is no denying that she is one of the best to have ever played tennis.

What speaks to so many, especially to black women, is her strength. Although her serves are legendary, it is her strength off the court that is equally laudatory. While having to navigate the intersection of race, gender, femininity and power for the 22 years that she has been on tour, Serena has mastered it with grace and confidence. The ability to rise above racism, sexism, and hate, sometimes from those within her tennis community, has been nothing short of amazing.

Many of us are understandably proud and also fiercely protective of Serena. She is a darker-skinned black woman who has no equal in her field. In a word, Serena is #Goals. She is at the top of her profession, she is a savvy businesswoman, she is a strong supporter of her community, and she’s a beautiful woman, inside and out. Not only is it exciting to watch her play, but it is exciting to watch her exist in a world in which she and so many of us have been told that we have no place. Serena has defied expectations, defied the odds, and even defied death. It is her unabashed swagger, earned after decades of hard work, that makes her a consummate joy.

In Serena’s words, “the success of one woman should be the inspiration for the next.” Serena has inspired many to persevere despite the odds, and then to walk in their truth once they have arrived. The power of her backhand is rivaled only by the power that Serena commands off the court. The determination and joy with which Serena appears to live her life is something to which we should all aspire. When something or someone threatens to take us down a notch, we should all remember Serena quoting Maya Angelou and Rise: