Serena Williams will never stop using her voice to speak out against injustice.
In addition to posing in untouched photos for Harper's Bazaar's August issue, the 23-time Grand Slam champion opened up about her controversial finals match at the 2018 U.S. Open against Naomi Osaka with a candid first-person essay.
"It’s the beginning of the second set, and the umpire thinks he spots my coach signaling me from the stands. He issues a violation—a warning," Serena recalled. "I approach him and emphatically state the truth: that I wasn’t looking at my coach. 'I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose,' I said. I walk back to the court and lose the next point. I smash my racket in frustration; he issues another violation and gives a point to my opponent. I feel passionately compelled to stand up for myself."
"I call him a thief; I again demand an apology," she detailed. "I tell him he is penalizing me for being a woman. He responds by issuing a third violation and takes a game from me. In the end, my opponent simply played better than me that day and ended up winning her first Grand Slam title. I could not have been happier for her. As for me, I felt defeated and disrespected by a sport that I love—one that I had dedicated my life to and that my family truly changed, not because we were welcomed, but because we wouldn’t stop winning."
Following the upset, Serena received tons of backlash for her court behavior, as many deemed her a "sore loser," and slammed her for how she chose to "express her frustrations."
" 'If I were a man, would I be in this situation? What makes me so different? Is it because I’m a woman?' Serena said she asked herself. "I stop myself to avoid getting worked up. I tell myself, 'You’ve been through so much, you’ve endured so much, time will allow me to heal, and soon this will be just another memory that made me the strong woman, athlete, and mother I am today.' But this was different. I was hurt—cut deeply. I tried to compare it to other setbacks I’d had in my life and career, and for some reason I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was about so much more than just me. I thought back to my first Grand Slam. It’s the one you remember best; it’s supposed to be the most special. This debacle ruined something that should have been amazing and historic. Not only was a game taken from me but a defining, triumphant moment was taken from another player, something she should remember as one of the happiest memories in her long and successful career. My heart broke. I started to think again, 'What could I have done better? Was I wrong to stand up? Why is it that when women get passionate, they’re labeled emotional, crazy, and irrational, but when men do they’re seen as passionate and strong?'
After heavily reflecting on the incident and even seeking a therapist, Serena said she decided to reach out to "the person who deserved it the most."
"Hey, Naomi! It’s Serena Williams," the 37-year-old tennis star wrote to her 21-year-old opponenet. "As I said on the court, I am so proud of you and I am truly sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself. But I had no idea the media would pit us against each other. I would love the chance to live that moment over again. I am, was, and will always be happy for you and supportive of you. I would never, ever want the light to shine away from another female, specifically another black female athlete. I can’t wait for your future, and believe me I will always be watching as a big fan! I wish you only success today and in the future. Once again, I am so proud of you. All my love and your fan, Serena."
And it was Naomi's gracious response that made it clear what Serena was she was fighting for. "People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can’t differentiate between the two," Naomi replied. "No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing."
Serena shared, "It was in this moment that I realized the real reason the US Open was so hard for me to get over: It wasn’t because of the backlash I faced but rather because of what had happened to the young woman who deserved so much more in her special moment. I had felt that it was my fault and that I should have kept my mouth closed. But now, seeing her text putting everything in perspective, I realized she was right."
"Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve felt a need to voice my opinion and be heard," she continued. "Some may not like it, and to be honest, that’s their prerogative. I respect it. Growing up as the youngest of five girls, I learned that I had to fight for everything I wanted. And I won’t ever stop raising my voice against injustice."
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