American tennis player. Born Serena Jameka Williams on September 26, 1981, in Saginaw, Michigan. The youngest of Richard and Oracene Williams' five daughters, Serena Williams, along with her sister Venus, has at various times throughout her career dominated the sport, capturing 11 Grand Slam singles titles and 10 doubles championships.
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 three, 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 and Venus' 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 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. Over the next decade, Serena alone would win 23 Grand Slam titles—including 10 doubles championships with her sister Venus.
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 stand-out celebrities on the court.
Proving to have much more than just tennis clout, Serena expanded her brand into film, television, and fashion. She developed her own "Aneres" line of clothing, and in 2002 People magazine selected her as one of its 25 Most Intriguing People. Essence magazine later called her one of the country's 50 Most Inspiring African-Americans. She's also made television appearances, and lent her voice to shows such as The Simpsons.
In 2002, she 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 five women players to have complete grand slam sets. The win also fulfilled her desire to finish off 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.