Serena Williams recognition as Sportsperson of the Year the best moment in women’s sport for 2015

From the outset, the most significant impact concerning Serena Williams gaining the prestigious honor from Sports Illustrated is that it is no longer the Sportsman or Sportswoman of the Year Award. Instead, it is the Sportsperson of the Year, marking an evolution in the Award’s history. With such change, it is only fitting that Williams represented it, subsequently becoming the first woman in over 30 years to be recognized with the award.

Mary Decker was the last female athlete to gain the recognition by herself, gaining the prestigious honor in 1983. Although other women in sport such as gymnast Mary Lou Retton, speed skater Bonnie Blair and basketball coach Pat Summitt have earned the nod as well, all shared it with men. With regards to tennis, the last female player to receive the honor was Chris Evert, winning in 1976.

Of note, Williams was not the only woman considered for the award. Carli Lloyd, who scored a hat trick in the final of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, bringing the US its first championships since 1999, made her mark as an American sporting hero. Conversation was even augmented over the naming of a winner, even including a Triple Crown winning horse known as American Pharoah.

In a year that saw so many women make their mark in sport, from Janine Weber becoming the first European player to score the Clarkson Cup clinching goal, to Dr.Jen Welter becoming the first female assistant coach in the NFL, it signified a landmark year for women. As a side note, when Williams was the guest editor of the publication Wired in October 2015, she featured Welter in a two-page piece.

Considering that she won 53 of 56 matches, including three of the prestigious Grand Slam events, it was the most dominant sporting performances of the season by any athlete, male or female. The one achievement that Williams has not reached (although it is attainable) is the record of 21 Grand Slam titles, held by Steffi Graf.

Although 2015 saw her add to an incredible sporting legacy, her return to Indian Wells may have been the most significant moment. Considering that the event marked one of the first milestones in her career (defeating Steffi Graf there in 1999), it helped bring closure to a sullen chapter in an otherwise superlative career.

Having last appeared at the event in 2001, it proved to be a difficult moment in her career. With accusations by a player (who later apologized) at the event that her father, Richard, decided matches between Serena and her older sister, Venus, it led to a firestorm of controversy as the two were scheduled to face each other in the semifinals.

After Venus was forced to withdraw from the match due to injury, the crowd booed, resulting in harsh criticism by some in the press. The booing would continue in the finals as Serena faced Kim Clijsters. In the aftermath, she made the visceral yet courageous decision to boycott the event, which displayed a show of support for her older sister, only strengthening an already unbreakable bond.

Throughout her career, she has challenged perceptions and stereotypes about athletes, body image (even appearing nude from behind in the final issue of Jane magazine) and raised the bar for the impact that visible minorities can have in sport as more than just leaders, but individuals capable of making positive change. Along with Venus, they would become the first female African-American owners of an NFL team, purchasing a stake in the Miami Dolphins.

In the process, she has proven to be an empowering role model for women of all sizes, ages and backgrounds, while establishing herself as one of the most famous female athletes (and women) in the world. Despite being 34 years of age, Williams shows no signs of slowing down, possibly setting a new standard on Grand Slam victories before her career reaches its twilight.

French Open win nets Serena Williams 20th major

Although it may have been the most hard-earned major in her sterling career, Serena Williams proved why she is one of the greatest tennis players ever, male or female. Winning the 20th major of her career at the 2015 edition of the French Open, she defeated Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic 6-3 6-7 (2) 6-2. Seeded 13 at the French Open, Safarova was making her first appearance in the finals of a tennis major.

Still showing signs of fatigue from the flu, Williams was unable to capitalize on a 4-1 advantage in the second set. Perhaps more surprising was the fact that she was behind 2-0 in the third.

Her ability to fight back the flu was akin to Michael Jordan, who battled the illness while leading the Chicago Bulls to their sixth league championship. Both sporting heroes added to their legend with such memorable performances.

In the aftermath of a dramatic victory, Williams became only the third woman in the history of tennis to win at least 20 majors. Ahead of Williams is Steffi Graf, who won 22 during the Open Era. Taking into account that Williams (who is also ranked No. 1 in the world) has already won two majors this season, and three straight (dating back to the 2014 US Open), she could finish the season by matching Graf. The fact that Williams won the first two Grand Slams of the season makes her the first since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to do so.

Match-up of Williams’ sisters the highlight of 2014 Rogers Cup

Having won the Rogers Cup in 2001, 2011 and 2013, Serena Williams was eager to try for a fourth title. The only obstacle in her way was sister Venus Williams in the semi-finals. Contested at Uniprix Stadium in Montreal, fans were excited at the 25th career match-up between the two.

Taking into account that Serena was ranked first in the event, while Venus had a 26 ranking, younger sister Serena was certainly the favorite. Shockingly, a valiant effort by Venus resulted in a three-set win. While Serena grabbed the first set by a 7-6 margin, Venus would bounce back with scores of 6-2 and 6-3.

Of note, the first set saw Venus enjoy a 3-1 lead before Serena made the comeback. Winning the tie break by a 7-2 mark, Serena successfully held off her sister in 55 minutes.

Despite the momentum, Serena could not contain in the second set as Venus climbed out to a 3-0 advantage. Three double faults plagued Serena as Venus only needed a half hour to force a third and deciding set.

The final set saw Venus force Serena into the corners, as she struggled to get back into the match. Grabbing the set by a 6-3 score, Venus would advance to the final against Agnieszka Radwanska. Neither has ever captured the Rogers Cup in the history of the event, setting the stage for history.

While Serena retains her number one world ranking, Venus jumps back into the Top 20. As a side note, Venus appeared in the 2014 edition of ESPN’s Body Issue, joining her sister, who appeared in the inaugural edition of the Body Issue back in 2009.

At 34 years young, Venus becomes the oldest finalist in the event since Martina Navratilova. At 32, Navratilova faced off against Aranxa Sanchez-Vicario to grab the 1989 edition of the title. While Venus looks to make her own history in the final, Serena holds a 14-11 advantage in match play against her sister, and prepares for the US Open.

10 Female Athletes that made an inspiring impact in 2013

In alphabetical order, please find ten female athletes that helped to make a tremendous impact in 2013, while advancing the already amazing world of female sport.

Angella Goran, Cycling

Cycling across Canada in hopes of raising funds for wildlife research, she channeled the spirit of other Canadians who have ventured on the road in similar efforts; Terry Fox, Rick Hansen and Ashley Gilbank. Looking to preserve Canada’s natural legacy while looking to educate and provide various education activities on her stops, Goran is a role model to both men and women who have undertaken environmental causes.

Emma Green-Tregaro, Track and Field

While the 2013 IAAF World Track and Field Championships were a lightning rod for controversy due to issues of gay rights, Emma Green-Tregaro made a remarkable statement. Painting her fingernails in the colors of the rainbow as a gesture of support, it made worldwide news. While she was inititally warned it could be in violation of the code of conduct of the world championships, she stood her ground, inspiring men and women of any sexual preference to stand up for their beliefs.

Brittany Griner, Basketball

From the NCAA to NBA Draft speculation to the WNBA, Brittany Griner made national news on numerous stages. While her NCAA career at Baylor did not end on with a Final Four, she graduated as the all-time leading blocker among both male and female basketball players.

Speculation about the NBA Draft sparked rumors that she would become the first female selected. Although it never materialized, she would go first overall to the Phoenix Mercury in the 2013 WNBA Draft. Her debut against the Chicago Sky (which featured second pick overall Elena Delle Donne) featured two slam dunks, the first player to do so in their WNBA debut.

Sami Grisafe, Football

One of the most inspiring sporting stories of 2013 (among men and women), football quarterback Sami Grisafe finished her storied football career in grand style. Having led the United States to a gold medal at the inaugural 2010 IFAF Women’s World Football Championships, she followed it up as the field general for the US in 2013.

Her world gold would be followed up by a remarkable performance with the Chicago Force in the 2013 WFA postseason. Leading her club to their first-ever WFA National Championship, it was a fitting finish to Grisafe’s stellar career. Tackling the next role in her life, a promising musical career, her performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at the IFAF Worlds and at Wrigley Field are pulse-pounding.

Brooke Henderson, Golf

Only 16 years old, Brooke Henderson may become the Tiger Woods of women’s golf. A teen phenom who was recognized as Canada’s amateur golfer of the year for 2013, she was also featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd segment. Ranked number nine in the world among amateur female golfers, she would place third at the professional Canadian Women’s Open while placing 35 at the LPGA’s Manulife Classic.

Nikki Johnson, Football

One of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of women’s indoor football, Nikki Johnson used her star power to try and improve working conditions in her league. A former intern with NFL Films and a high school sporting legend in Nevada, her solid work ethic and leadership skills set a positive example for teammate and rival alike.

While her requests for health insurance and a more equitable setting in the league resulted in her untimely dismissal, her efforts are similar to Curt Flood in baseball and Ted Lindsay in hockey. Although she will likely return to the WFA (where she first honed her skills), Johnson is a strong, courageous woman whose principles make her a symbol of admiration and determination.

Hilary Knight, Ice Hockey

While Amanda Kessel had an outstanding 2013, in which she won the Patty Kazmaier Award and led the Minnesota Golden Gophers to an undefeated season, Hilary Knight was playing in the ultra-competitive CWHL against some of Canada’s greatest women’s ice hockey players.

With such sterling competition, Knight not only ranked third in league scoring (first among US-born women), but she would become the first American-born player to capture the CWHL’s MVP Award. She would follow it up by leading all players in postseason scoring as the Blades upset the Montreal Stars to capture the Clarkson Cup. A few weeks later, Knight (and Kessel) would beat Canada on their own home ice to capture gold at the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships. Featured on a trading card in the Topps Sochi Winter Games trading card set, her star is on the rise.

Yekaterina Pashkevich, Ice Hockey

A former women’s tackle football competitor in the IWFL, Yekaterina Pashkevich emerged as the feel-good story of the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships. An original member of the Russian national team from 1993, she lived in Boston for several years after the 2006 Torino Winter Games. Making a comeback in hockey, Pashkevitch would capture the hearts and minds of fans 20 years later. As the oldest competitor at the 2013 IIHF Worlds, her acumen and leadership contributed to an emotional bronze medal for the Russian squad.

Winter Venecki, Running

In honor of her fallen father, Winter Venecki and her mother participated in marathons on every continent in the world. Looking to raise funds for cancer research, Venecki’s journey was one of inspiration and hope. Having established her own cause to raise funds, the teenaged Venecki is a great example of the great contributions youth can make to our society.

Serena Williams, Tennis

In a season that saw Williams amass an outstanding win-loss record of 78-4, she solidified her legacy as the greatest female tennis player ever. Her earnings of over $12,000,000 are the highest-ever in women’s tennis history and the fifth highest among both male and female players.

Honorable Mention: Christmas Abbott, NASCAR

As the first female full-time member of a NASCAR racing crew, Christmas Abbott is shattering barriers in traditionally male-dominated fields. Serving with the Michael Waltrip Racing Team, she is a proud member of Clint Bowyer’s pit crew. Able to change two tires weighting 60 pounds each, she paid her dues changing tires for female racer Jennifer Jo Cobb in years past. When not part of the pit crew, Abbott is also a competitor with Team CrossFitInvoke in the CrossFit Mid-Atlantic region.

Honorable Mention: Julie Paetsch, Football and Ice Hockey

One of the most influential women in Canadian sport for 2013, Julie Paetsch helped make history on two different occasions. Competing on defense with the Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, she returned from an injury in-time for the WWCFL title game. Helping the Valkyries to a victory over the Lethbridge Steel, the Valkyries became the first team to win three consecutive WWCFL titles. Of note, she would earn Defensive Player of the Game honors.

A few weeks later, she would contribute to Canada’s silver medal effort at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds. Recognized as Canada’s Player of the Game in the gold medal match against the United States, it would prove to be the beginning of a memorable summer. In late August, she would be selected by the Calgary Inferno in the 2013 Canadian Women’s Hockey League Draft, becoming the first women’s tackle football player taken in CWHL Draft history. In addition, she would score a goal in her debut for the Inferno.

Honorable Mention: Whitney Zelee, Football

Having helped the Boston Militia to a national championship in 2011, Whitney Zelee has emerged as a key member for the WFA franchise. While she has been working tirelessly to help the squad claim a second, her mark on WFA and women’s football history reached unforeseen heights in 2013. As the first player to log 2,000 yards in one season of women’s football, Zelee became a legend in the sport. With several performances of 300+ yards in several matches, her efforts shed a new light on the excitement of women’s football and the growing relevance of the sport.

Serena Williams: simply the best

The 2012 London Summer Games have solidified Serena Williams’s legacy as the greatest tennis player ever. A world class athlete, sex symbol, and inspiration, she is to tennis what Tiger Woods is to golf, and Michael Jordan is to basketball. Ardent fans could not have asked for a better setting at the Gold Medal Game between Williams and Maria Sharapova. Possessing all the elements of a classic US vs. Russia rivalry, the stage was set for two of the most popular (and attractive) tennis players to compete for golden glory.

With the tennis competition of the 2012 London Summer Games being hosted at Wimbledon, it was a good omen for Williams. At the 2012 Wimbledon tennis competition, she won her fifth Wimbledon singles crown by defeating Agnieszka Radwanska. In doubles play, she teamed with her sister Venus and the sisters bested Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka to claim their fifth Wimbledon doubles title, respectively. 

At the Summer Games, her first opponent was a former World number one, Jelena Jankovic. It only took Williams 61 minutes to move on to her next opponent, Urszula Radwanska. A rematch of the 2010 Wimbledon final occurred in the third round as Williams battled Vera Zvonareva. Caroline Wozniacki, another former World number one challenged Williams in the quarterfinal and was bested by marks of 6-0, and 6-3. The semifinals saw Williams overcome Victoria Azarenka, the current World number one ranked player. Williams would beat her by compiling sixteen aces with wins of 6-1 and 6-2. Her win was complemented by a post-game celebratory dance. Outfitted in blue, the proud Williams burst into tears of joy upon having the medal adorned around her. The California native could not have her jubilant mood dampened by the American flag falling off during the playing of the star spangled banner.

Her opponent in the gold medal match, Maria Sharapova would be the fourth former world number one ranked player. In the first 45 minutes, Williams took nine matches before losing one to Sharapova. The defeat of Sharapova made Williams a career Golden Slam winner in Singles (having won all four Grand Slam events – Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open, plus a gold medal in Summer Games play). Steffi Graf is the only other women’s player that can boast of such an accomplishment.

To signify the importance and relevance of Serena Williams as a global celebrity and key figure in popular culture, the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama was in attendance at one of her matches. Both ladies are key female figures in the American black history of the early 21st Century.

Despite cruising to a gold medal in singles play, there was another challenge that remained. Pairing with sister Venus Williams, the two wanted to win the gold for the second consecutive Summer Games. The final saw the sisters challenge Hlavackova and Hradecka of the Czech Republic in a rematch of the Wimbledon Final. With the victory, it would mark the third time overall (the first coming at Sydney 2000, and the second in Beijing during the 2008 Games) that the Williams sisters won the gold in doubles play. With her sister Venus having won the singles gold at Sydney 2000, it marked a rare happening in which sisters have claimed double gold at a Summer Games in tennis. With the gold in doubles play, Serena also earned a Golden Slam in Doubles. She is the first tennis player, male or female to accomplish the Golden Slam at both levels of play.