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You remember the excitement of this year’s Belmont Stakes when American Pharaoh became the first horse in 37 years to win all three of the Triple Crown derbies? Imagine the excitement if a person was poised for such a feat. Imagine!
As tennis fans gather this week in England for the final week of Wimbledon, Britain’s premier tennis tournament, much of the attention will be focused on Serena Williams. Williams won the Australian Open and the French Open earlier this year. At 33, (and let’s face it, that adds a dimension of wow!) number one seeded Williams continues her quest toward a calendar Grand Slam—winning the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open in one year. It’s an achievement that only five other players in history have accomplished—Maureen Connolly (1953), Margaret Court (1970), and Steffi Graf (1988) and Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969). This week will determine whether Williams’ quest shall continue, or end early. (The final Grand Slam tournament, the U.S. Open, begins August 31.) What makes her next match on Monday even more exciting is that the player across the court from Serena Williams will be Venus Williams. Yes, Williams. Her older sister. It is a most unusual tennis rivalry.
Serena Williams Hits the Courts—
Serena Williams is the odds-on favorite to win Wimbledon’s women’s singles tournament. This is not surprising. Williams has been a fierce competitor for over a decade. Sixteen years after she first won a major tennis tournament (the U.S. Open in 1999), she continues to dominate her sport; she is the number one ranked women’s tennis player in the world with 20 career Grand Slam wins. See how Williams’ continuing career compares with previous tennis greats. Check out the numbers behind her career.
Like many athletes, Serena Williams’ father first introduced her to her sport. Watch a short biography about how she first started playing tennis, and how she has changed women’s tennis. Read an interview about Serena Williams with ESPN commentator and International Tennis Hall of Fame member, Pam Shriver.
Serena Williams Levels the Playing Field—
Although Williams has earned a reputation as a player whose power and serve have altered women’s tennis, she also changed the politics of the game. Only a decade ago, female Wimbledon winners earned less prize money than their male counterparts. Williams advocated for equal prize money. Her op-ed letter in The London Times urged Wimbledon’s leadership to reconsider and became a turning point in the fight for equal prize money; scroll half-way down to read the full op-ed. The story of Williams’ work to close the pay-gap is recounted in the documentary, Venus Vs. Watch the preview, or if you are interested, watch the full Nine for IX film.
Althea Gibson Changes the Game—
Before there was Williams’ power or her successful fight for equal pay, there was another lesser known player who also changed the game. Fifty-eight years ago, on July 6, 1957, Althea Gibson became the first African-American woman to win Wimbledon. Her career paved the path to the court for African-American players. Watch how Gibson helped change the face of tennis. Serena—and Venus—Williams climbed up through the glass ceiling that Althea Gibson shattered to Wimbledon’s Centre Court where they will face-off on Monday.