(CBS) — Serena Williams was selected by The Associated Press as the Female Athlete of the Decade on Saturday. The winner was chosen by AP member sports editors and AP beat writers.
Williams had an exceptional decade on and off the court. She earned a dozen Grand Slam singles titles – no other woman won more than three over the past 10 seasons – and held the Women’s Tennis Association number one ranking for three and a half years in a row, equaling Steffi Graf’s record for most consecutive weeks atop the rankings.
“When the history books are written, it could be that the great Serena Williams is the greatest athlete of all time. … I like to call it the ‘Serena Superpowers’ – that champion’s mindset. Irrespective of the adversity and the odds that are facing her, she always believes in herself,” Stacey Allaster, CEO of the WTA from 2009-15 and now chief executive for professional tennis at the U.S. Tennis Association, which runs the U.S. Open, told The Associated Press.
Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, more than anyone else in the history of professional tennis. More than half of those titles came in the last decade as she entered her 30s – when players typically begin to slow down.
Williams, 38, is the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam singles trophy in the professional era.
Off the court, she has championed women’s rights, and given a voice to health care inequality plaguing black women in the United States.
In 2018, Williams nearly lost her life after giving birth to her daughter. The tennis legend suffered a myriad of medical problems after delivery – including blood clots and a burst C-section – and later shed light on the life-saving health care she received that many women are not given.
In an opinion piece for CNN, Williams wrote about the alarming mortality rate of black women who give birth, saying that according to the CDC black women in the U.S. are three times more likely to die from complications during pregnancy or childbirth.
“Whether it was health issues; coming back; having a child; almost dying from that – she has endured it all and she is still in championship form,” Allaster said. “Her records speak for themselves.”
Simone Biles, who was named the 2019 AP Female Athlete of the Year, and finished second to Williams for the decade honor, said Williams has been her idol growing up.
“She’s remained humble. She’s stayed true to herself and her character and I think that’s really neat about an athlete,” Biles said. “Once you start winning, some get cocky, but she’s stayed true to herself, win or lose.”
The AP Male Athlete of the Decade will be announced Sunday.