Few athletes carry the distinction of the Greatest of All Time, but it’s hard to argue against Serena Williams as the GOAT of tennis. Throughout her career, the 23-time Grand Slam champion has embodied the self-confidence it takes to reach that level of success, especially in the face of criticism often rooted in misogyny, racism, and toxic body standards. She once shrugged off body shamers by telling Good Morning America, “I'm strong, and I'm powerful, and I'm beautiful at the same time.” In a 2022 Vogue essay announcing her retirement, the then-40-year-old athlete also spoke about the power of perseverance, writing, “I know perfect doesn’t exist, but whatever my perfect was, I never wanted to stop until I got it right.”
Williams’ sustained greatness on the court has vaulted her to fame beyond sports; she is beloved not just as a tennis legend (she's won more major singles titles than any player in the history of the open era) but also as an inspiring pop culture icon. Her gameday uniforms routinely make a splash in the fashion world, while her numerous guest appearances on primetime television — from Law & Order to ER to Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender — have made her a familiar face in the entertainment world. (Who could forget her cameo alongside fellow GOAT Beyoncé in her "Sorry" video?)
Williams was named the 2010s “Female Athlete of the Decade” by the Associated Press while also becoming the most tweeted about woman in the history of sports. Off the court, she has established herself as a successful business mogul. In 2020, she launched the “S by Serena” clothing line after years of making waves in fashion; she’s appeared on the cover of Vogue more times than any athlete in history. And not only does she sit on the board at SurveyMonkey and serve as Chief Sporting Officer for British automaker Aston Martin, she recently launched Serena Ventures, which primarily funds companies founded by women and people of color.
Williams is known both for her powerful playing style on the court and as a pioneer who blazed a trail for women of color in tennis and beyond. Current tennis stars, such as four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, have credited Williams and her older sister Venus Williams for motivating them to play in what used to be a white- and male-dominated sport. “Serena is unequivocally the best athlete ever,” Osaka told TIME earlier this year. “Forget female athlete, I mean athlete. No one else has changed her sport as much as she did, and against all odds.” Williams’ perseverance and dedication to greatness encourages us to believe in ourselves and our abilities. Here are 10 of her quotes from interviews and essays that will push you to be the best you can be.
I don't pray to win. Not that I don't want to or try to. But I know now a loss can be a gift. A chance to grow. Losing has taught me to be a better winner and a better person, one who is always looking for opportunities to learn.
— “Guideposts” essay
You can be whatever size you are, and you can be beautiful both inside and out. We’re always told what’s beautiful and what’s not, and that’s not right.
— “People” interview, 2009
I really think a champion is defined not by their wins, but by how they can recover when they fall.
— “The National” interview, 2012
Every day, you know, you learn something new about someone.
— USOpen.com interview, 2014
Am I the greatest? I don’t know. I’m the greatest that I can be.
— “Glamour” interview, 2016
It doesn’t matter what people say about you or how people feel. You have to love yourself, and when you love yourself it will manifest in everything that you do.
— EPIX panel interview, 2016
Being strong is never easy. Not in this world we are living in… Standing up for yourself is not going to be easy, but it’s always eventually respected. Those are the people who’ve made a difference in this world, people that stand up for what’s right. If you look at history, those are the people that you really remember.
— “Allure” interview, 2019
Being kind and humble is the ultimate beauty.
— “Allure” interview, 2019
Mistakes are learning experiences.
— “Vogue” essay, 2022
An athlete isn’t just about what an animal you are physically, like a specimen. It’s using everything. Your mind, your body, everything.
— “TIME” interview, 2022
Photo credit: BEN STANSALL/ AFP via Getty Images