Serena Williams is very much her own woman: driven, focused, as formidable a competitor as tennis has ever seen. Throughout her nearly quarter-century long career, Serena has been a clutch performer, never easy to beat no matter the score. She has the greatest serve in the history of women’s tennis, forceful groundstrokes off both sides, and a remarkable ability to play her best when the chips are down. All of those assets have allowed her to rewrite the history books, including an Open era record tally of Grand Slam singles titles.

Her excellence has also upped the ante among her peers. As Serena has frequently pointed out, her opponents typically play their very best tennis when facing her. That, of course, is a tribute to the high standards she demands from her rivals. Bring anything less and you will be walking off the court quickly.

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The last major title Serena won, at the 2017 Australian Open, is seen by many as her most impressive.

The last major title Serena won, at the 2017 Australian Open, is seen by many as her most impressive.

But while Serena’s considerable skills inside the lines are highly visible, the underrated key to her success and longevity in such a ruthlessly individual sport as tennis comes from a strong attachment to family. One of the most endearing images of 2021 was a clip of Serena teaching tennis to her daughter, Alexis Olympia, who turned 4 on September 1. “You know what Grandpa taught me?” Serena asked. There it was: a three-generation thread, from the acknowledgment of Richard Williams’ expertise, to Serena seeking to pass on that wisdom.

Serena’s spirit of collaboration and community has always run deep, alongside husband Alexis Ohanian, sister/best friend Venus and mother Oracene, as well as frequent visits during tournaments from their sisters and friends. The Williams family has always treated tennis as a team sport, supporting one another through the wins and the losses—and all that has made their journey the most amazing story in the history of sports.