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Undefeated Athlete of the Week

Serena Williams reveals vulnerability rarely shown by an athlete of her status

Brave, fearless and all agents of change, athletes will be recognized every week for using their platform for the greater good

For tennis opponents, it’s easy to be intimidated by Serena Williams. From her well-toned arms to her strong legs, Williams likely won many matches during her Hall of Fame career in the moment she walked onto the court.

So it was different to see Williams step into the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina, on Sunday wearing a long-sleeved shirt and athletic leggings topped by a tennis skirt. She appeared mild-mannered and, for a rare moment in her 22-year career, vulnerable.

That’s exactly what motherhood will do to you.

Williams’ body is different, and her devotion has shifted from focusing strictly on tennis to raising her daughter.

These are not the usual characteristics associated with being an athlete of the week. But we’re bestowing The Undefeated Athlete of the Week honors on Williams for her willingness to step out at a time when she knew she was less than stellar and putting herself on display to a sellout crowd in Asheville and a national television audience.

As a tennis player, Williams wasn’t very good on Sunday.

As a new mother who is likely spending hours changing diapers, feeding and showering her adorable daughter with love, her willingness to show up and compete, even at a limited level, made her triumphant.

“There’s been ups and downs in practice,” Williams said. “I think that’s normal for everything that I’ve gone through.”

What Williams has gone through is not just childbirth. She gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., via cesarean section. Blood clots were found in her lungs the day after the procedure. Then coughing caused her C-section wounds to open, leading to a return to surgery and a couple of days of concern because of her history of blood clots.

Williams pulled through those difficult days last September. And her Fed Cup appearance was the first step of a process in which she hopes to return as a dominant force in tennis.

That will take some time, and in the meantime the women of the WTA should take advantage of her absence.

Since Williams won the 2017 Australian Open, four women have won Grand Slam titles. That’s the longest stretch of rotating champions since Kim Clijsters won the 2010 US Open, setting up a string where six women other than Williams won majors. (Williams missed that 2010 US Open because she was recovering from surgery on a foot injured when she stepped on glass. She missed part of the 2011 tennis season because of a pulmonary embolism.)

Williams has always bounced back. Her victory at the 2007 Australian Open ended a two-year drought of Grand Slam wins. She had another two-year drought before winning the 2012 title at Wimbledon, which launched a dominant stretch in which she won eight majors in 13 tournaments.

Coming back this time won’t be easy for Williams, 36. But being just two Grand Slam titles away from tennis history (Williams has 23; Margaret Court holds the record with 24), the last thing anyone should do is count her out.

“I have long-term goals, obviously,” Williams said. “Right now my main goal is to stay in the moment. It goes unsaid that 25 [major titles] is something that I would love, but I’d hate to limit myself.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.