Arthur Ashe Stadium will be electric as the U.S. Open begins today with a crowd favorite coming home to claim her crown.
Serena Williams makes her way back to Flushing Meadows with an opportunity to match Margaret Court’s all-time record by securing Grand Slam singles title number 24. This will be one of a handful of tournament appearances since giving birth to her 11-month-old daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., and as usual, she’ll enter the competition poised and determined as ever.
Her journey back to being ranked number one in the world has hit a few bumps along the way, one of them being a tough loss in last month’s Wimbledon final. Yes, the valiant effort to reclaim her crown and reinstate herself as rightful queen of the court is certainly commendable following childbirth.
But that’s not enough for Serena. Excellence is the standard. Twenty-three Grand Slams and a career spent being the GOAT of her game tells us that.
In Being Serena, a 5-part HBO docuseries chronicling her return to pro tennis, we get a glimpse of how challenging the process back to peak performance has been for her. From creating new life to battling for her life after complications from a pulmonary embolism and hematoma following her delivery to mixed emotions about her post-pregnancy body to the hard conversations with her coach about training, she shows us how joyful—yet arduous—her journey back to competitive excellence has been.
Similar to new working moms everywhere, she’s trying to master work/life balance. She’s doing the mental gymnastics of fighting her own doubts, pushing back against societal expectations, relying on her family and friends for help, wrestling with the connotations and benefits of selfishness, questioning her ability as an athlete and as a mother all while pursuing another championship title with amplified ambition and a healthy desire to win. This dance of determination, dependence, and difficulty is new for her and she’s letting us see it.
Seldom do superheroes willingly let us see their struggles, but by revealing their weaknesses, they show us what true strength is. Despite what we may think, comeback stories are not linear journeys. Recovery is not a sprint, but a marathon and beating yourself up won’t make the process move any faster. It seems like Serena understands that. Coupled with the commitment to being a champion is the commitment to treating herself with compassion, kindness and grace. Like all of us, she’s a work in progress.
“Nothing about me right now is perfect,” she told Time Magazine. “But I’m perfectly Serena.”
It’s intriguing to see this level of vulnerability from her. At least from my vantage point. For most of my life I’ve only seen Serena hoist trophy after trophy, overwhelming opponents with ease. What she’s doing is showing us that when faced with challenge — and even defeat — staying defeated isn’t an option. She still has the same fortitude, the same energy, the same mission.
Although her name hasn’t been in the win column as much as she’d like, she’s not letting mistakes, questionable scrutiny of her body, or disappointments derail her. She’s persistent in her pursuit and is getting comfortable bringing all of who she is to the game she’s given her life’s work to. What she’s saying to the world and to herself is that she’s got more to give and will continue to give it all she's got.
She reminds us to give ourselves more grace as we grow in the midst of realizing our greatness. She’s reminding me to rest even more in the grace God gives, that His strength is made perfect in my weakness, to take those weaknesses in stride and allow Christ’s power to work in me, that His grace is enough. The message she’s reminding me of is that flawlessness isn’t the goal. Wholeness is.
Yes, Serena’s riveting comeback tour is one that we have the privilege to bear witness to, but more than that, it’s an invitation to watch the one of the best athletes in the world come into the fullness of who she is and bring her whole self to the court.