The rise to true greatness follows a change in attitude for the Williams sisters


Serena Williams - Mutua Madrid Open 2015 -DSC_1086This is a guest post by our friend, loyal reader and contributor John Bolan.

Back in June 2011, I wrote an article titled Willams sisters don’t deserve the privileged status they have in women’s tennis, which has received so many comments, both pro and con, perhaps more comments than any other article on the Women’s Tennis Blog. A miraculous turn of events has occurred since the article appeared. I ask myself, did Venus and Serena actually read the article and then decide to change their attitudes? LOL– No, but here is what I think happened.

Both Serena and Venus had major health issues and, in fact, Serena’s issue could have been fatal. It seems they both rededicated themselves to tennis. A renewed determination to win on court and be the best ambassadors for the WTA and the game of tennis became evident.

Venus, older than all but a few players on tour, seemed ready to retire. After all, Venus has had Sjögren syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disease, which sapped her strength and endurance. Her fans would understand. Much younger players were retiring acknowledging their best tennis years were in the past. Venus had no such idea. She and Serena announced they intended to play doubles together in the 2016 Olympics. Venus has played top twenty tennis on the court and has actually increased her fan base and her efforts off the court. Just this week, she played in a Billie Jean King’s team tennis match. She spent more time with her fans and even signed her cover of the ESPN Body Issue for me last year in Stanford.

Venus Williams - Rogers Cup 2014 - DSC_1274Serena – what more can I write about her that has not already been written about her this week? Ranked as one of the better women players in tennis history in 2011, Serena is now THE greatest woman tennis player and THE greatest woman athlete of all time. She has won eight Grand Slams since she turned 30! Imagine her in the hospital in very serious condition. What was she thinking? I remember when I was ten years old and being treated for a badly broken leg. I heard the doctors say my one leg may be shorter than the other and I would not be able to run again. My goal was to prove them wrong which I did by running track in high school. Serena must have said to herself she was going to go out and become the best player of all time. She was all business after her recovery, running sprints over and over, working out harder than anyone and upping both her mental and her physical game. Her press relations and interviews were so much better, too.

Serena overcame a huge hurdle in her life by agreeing to play at Indian Wells this year. She was my hero. I am a white man, but I understand the nastiness of racism. Serena defeated the racists. I also understand the battle women face on a daily basis. Gender slandering, body shaming, equal pay and equal opportunity are some of the issues women face. Serena defeated them all.

Serena and Venus have achieved their goals. There were no miracles and no luck involved. Hard work and determination were the key factors in their rise to the very pinnacle of sports. Go see them if you have the chance. Buy tickets for the Olympics women’s singles and doubles final. Let’s all hope 2016 won’t be the last year of their great careers. (photos: Jimmie48)


  1. Nice to see that you have had a change of heart on the Williams sisters. I personally still don’t like them. I think it’s fantastic what Serena has done for Women’s tennis for equal pay and equality for women in tennis. In American sports coverage, when it comes to women’s tennis coverage it is mostly Serena this and Venus that. They rarely give the younger players that win any coverage.

  2. John-
    It seems like the one attitude that has changed is your own. Since I didn’ t read your original article, what is the attitude that you think has changed? (And given its disagreeable headline, I don’t plan to read it. ) These two women have earned everything they have, I’m glad you finally see the light.

  3. I agree with @jeanius the article does not actually explain properly what this change of attitude is from. I also agree that the change of attitude / perception is from the writer.

  4. The Williams Sisters achievements cannot be questioned. I believe attitude and behavior shifts may in fact show gratitude for overcoming illnesses, reflecting on their success and love for the game. I believe much is due to the perspective gained through maturity. I’d like to think I had it all together at 25 or 30 I didn’t but no one followed me around with a camera documenting my faults “pun intended.” Fine wines mellow with age. I like what I see now more than what I had previously but I am also aware that what I see is carved out and edited by media outlets. We all do things we regret especially when young. Sensationalism sells and it seems the more negative the better which is unfortunate. It is great that you are seeing a positive shift. Whatever the reasons, I like what I see and hear. Much of what I see is in person at events that I attend so I have confidence in that reality over what is televised or written. Compared to certain ATP players, their on-court outbursts; Serena is more highly scrutinized when you compare apples to apples. But then she is #1 and female, that field is rarely level.

  5. Yes, my attitude changed, but it changed because their attitude changed. Here is a list of the number one players from 2010 to 2013 before Serena once again became the number 1 player:

    Caroline Wozniacki Oct 11, 2010 to Feb 13, 2011 18 weeks
    Kim Clijsters Feb 14, 2011 to Feb 20, 2011 1 week
    Caroline Wozniacki Feb 21, 2011 to Jan 29, 2012 49 weeks
    Victoria Azarenka Jan 30, 2012 to Jun 10, 2012 19 weeks
    Maria Sharapova Jun 11, 2012 to Jul 8, 2012 4 weeks
    Victoria Azarenka Jul 9, 2012 to Feb 17, 2013 32 weeks

    Before these years Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic as well as Serena shared the #1 spot. Justine Henin was number one long than Serena until September 2010. It wasn’t so long ago when Serena was not the dominant players she is today.


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