The Williams Sisters Legacy Reaches New Heights Through Sloane Stephens
On Saturday at Flushing Meadows all eyes were on two players participating in their maiden grand slam final. It was hailed as a new milestone in American tennis, but it is possible that it may never have happened if it wasn’t for the benchmarks set out by the Williams sisters.
Sloane Stephens became the fourth African American in history to win the US Open after thrashing a below-par Madison Keys 6-3, 6-0. It was an achievement to mark a spectacular comeback by the 24-year-old, who recently missed 11 months of the tour due to injury. She now finds herself in an elite group of American grand slam winners in the 21st century, but it doesn’t hinder her admiration for Venus or Serena Williams.
“I think Venus is just our leader. I think as a whole, she’s just like what everyone looks up to. She’s a great player, a great person.” Stephens said about 37-year-old Venus.
“Being on Fed Cup teams with her, like, there is not anything bad you can say about Venus. I’m just honoured to be able to play at the same time as her. I’m happy she’s still playing. She means a lot to the game.”
Runner-up Keys had also previously expressed her respect towards the sisters, particularly Serena. Ahead of their 2015 semifinal clash in Melbourne, she hailed the 23-grand slam champion as ‘one of the best.’
“Serena’s always been one of the best, and she will forever be one of the best tennis players in women’s tennis,” Keys once told The New York Times. “So much respect for that and so much respect towards her and her game.”
The impact of the Williams sisters on the sport remains significant. Between them, they have won 28 grand slam titles in singles (23 for Serena and five four Venus). Together they have also managed to claim 14 major doubles titles to make them the joint-second most successful pairing of the open era.
It is near impossible to pinpoint the exact correlation between women of colour playing tennis and the Williams sisters. Although there are now more professional women tennis players on the tour from non-white backgrounds than ever before.
“We changed tennis,” Serena famously told the media in 2013. “We brought passion and fashion wearing extravagant clothes. And also style, power as a new skin colour as we are African-Americans. We improved tennis.”
“I think that totally changed the dynamic of the game,” she continued. “I remember in particular Venus started wearing all these amazing outfits and I was so influenced by that. … I definitely think we had a huge impact on tennis in that way. As well, of course, bringing such power into tennis, and bringing a new colour.”
The legacy of the Williams sisters is one that builds on that of the formidable Althea Gibson. The first woman of colour to win a grand slam title in 1957. Growing up in an era dominated by racism, Gibson was prohibited from playing a white player on the court until the age of 23.
A lot has changed since Gibson’s unjust treatment. The Williams sisters are now powerhouses in both the world of sport and business. Like Gibson, their legacy is just one a part of history. A chapter written in a never-ending book. They will not be on the tour forever, but there are reassurances there that those replacing them will continue to inspire. Which is why Stephens’ New York success over Keys was one that had a much deeper meaning.