Serena Williams will go down as one of the greatest athletes ever. After 23 major singles championships, the 39-year-old tennis player has nothing left to prove in the sport. However, there was a time when Williams’ journey to greatness was in serious doubt.
All great athletes have a rough stretch in their careers, and Williams was no different. The tennis legend was able to revitalize her legendary career thanks to a letter from a former tennis player and a trip to one of her favorite places in the world.
Serena Williams struggles in tennis after a tragic personal loss
Things were going well for Serena Williams at the start of 2005. On Jan. 29 of that year, she dominated Lindsay Davenport in the Australian Open, winning the match in straight sets. After that victory, things started to unravel for the then-23-year-old tennis player.
Williams dealt with depression during 2005-06. Her sister, Yetunde Price, was killed in her hometown of Compton, California in 2003. Price was caught in the middle of a gang shootout while in the car with her boyfriend. Not only was Price Williams’ older sister, but she was also the tennis star’s assistant.
During those two years, knee injuries hampered her ability to compete at a high level. The tennis legend also participated in some off-the-court endeavors, guest-starring in TV shows and attending movie premieres, according to ESPN. She had some conditioning issues, signaling that her heart wasn’t fully committed to tennis at the time.
Serena Williams faced a lot of adversity from 2003-06, and it impacted her tennis career. She wasn’t the same player, falling to No. 140 in the world tennis rankings, per ESPN. The legendary tennis player was able to get her career back on track because of a letter and multiple trips to one of her favorite places.
Chris Evert’s letter and trips to Africa helped Serena Williams’ tennis career
From her personal battles to her tennis career, things weren’t right for Serena Williams. She had to rekindle her love for the game. Chris Evert, a former world No. 1 tennis player, wrote a letter to Williams in the May 2006 issue of Tennis Magazine asking her to recommit herself to tennis.
“When I wrote that letter, I didn’t think she was taking it as seriously as she could. She was losing to players she should have been beating; she wasn’t in good shape…she was distracted. I didn’t want her to have regrets,” said Evert per ESPN.
The tennis broadcaster did admit that she didn’t consider any of the personal issues Williams faced at the time. In 2007, Serena began taking charity trips to Africa. After multiple visits, her mother, Oracene Price, said that those trips helped change her daughter’s tennis career.
“Going to Africa changed her life. She came back a totally different person. That helped her to refocus on her life and her career. That really changed her attitude about being a Black woman,” said Price.
Serena Williams found the fire for tennis again, and she came back to the sport with a vengeance.
Serena Williams’ triumphant return to tennis
With the help of Evert’s letter and her multiple trips to Africa, Serena Williams recommitted herself to the sport. She worked with world-renown fitness trainer Mackie Shilstone to improve her conditioning. The tennis star’s work in her return to tennis showcased her mental fortitude and internal drive.
“I’ve worked with thousands of professional athletes, some of the best in the world. Serena is one of the most mentally tough individual athletes I have ever seen, man or woman, in 30 years of experience,” said Shilstone per ESPN.
In peak physical shape and a renewed love for tennis, Williams shocked the world. She defeated Maria Sharapova in the 2007 Australian Open Final as an unseeded player and ranked No. 81 worldwide. Her success didn’t stop there, as she also won doubles with her sister Venus at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A few weeks later, the tennis legend captured her third U.S. Open title.
2005-06 were rough years for Serena Williams personally and professionally. She didn’t let those situations define her as she worked hard to overcome adversity. Williams’ relentless pursuit of greatness makes her one of the greatest athletes to walk the earth.