Power. For me, that word defines Serena Williams. I love her body—it’s invincible. I also love that none of her seemingly superhuman attributes were given to her or easily attained. Everything she has, she earned, one drop of sweat at a time. She and big sister Venus were their own mini-civil-rights movement as they fought to establish their place on the predominantly white tennis circuit, and they have dominated for nearly two decades.
Becoming the mother to gorgeous baby girl Alexis Olympia—who shares her February cover of Vogue magazine—was no less a struggle than any of Williams’ other feats; she came straight out of Compton, Calif., to be crowned the Best Athlete of All Time.
As told to Vogue, Williams—newly married to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian—was blessed with an easy pregnancy (as expected, given her supreme physical condition). But delivering the other cover girl on this month’s Vogue was ultimately a “harrowing experience.” Call it bad luck, but as her baby’s heart rate plummeted dangerously low during birth, Williams required an emergency cesarean section.
To make matters worse, the new mother suffered a recurrence of blood clots—a condition that flared up hours after the C-section that left Williams gasping for air and fearing that she was having another pulmonary embolism. After she advocated for herself and insisted on a CT scan and a blood thinner, another emergency surgery was performed to insert a filter into a major vein to clear up abdominal bleeding (a side effect of blood-thinning medication). To add to the drama, her C-section incision then ruptured because of the intense coughing caused by the blood clot. Our mighty Serena was left flat on her back for a full six weeks.
Thankfully, mother and daughter are now more than fine. Serena is up and naturally winning again, with a new clothing line launching on her website in March, serial investments in tech companies owned or led by black women, and a new home in Silicon Valley.
Is she done with tennis? Not by a long shot. Twenty-three grand slams already have her name on them, and she’s looking to own 25 in total, making her the greatest tennis player of all time (24 is the current record held by Australian Margaret Court).
As for motherhood, Williams only believes it ups her game, telling Vogue:
Knowing I’ve got this beautiful baby to go home to makes me feel like I don’t have to play another match. I don’t need the money or the titles or the prestige. I want them, but I don’t need them. That’s a different feeling for me ... It’s interesting. ... There hasn’t been a clear number one since I was there. It will be cool to see if I get there again, to what I call my spot—where I feel I belong. I don’t play to be the second best or the third best. If there’s no clear number one, it’s like, yeah, I can get my spot back. But if there is a clear number one, that’s cool, too, because it’s like, yeah, I’m gonna come for you.
And as for introducing her daughter to Mom’s stratospheric fame, Williams told Vogue that she wants baby Alexis to know that her own potential is absolutely limitless:
I think sometimes women limit themselves. I’m not sure why we think that way, but I know that we’re sometimes taught to not dream as big as men, not to believe we can be a president or a CEO, when in the same household, a male child is told he can be anything he wants. I’m so glad I had a daughter. I want to teach her that there are no limits.