On Sunday, 31-year-old Serena Williams made history by becoming the oldest woman to lift a singles Grand Slam as she beat Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6/8), 6-1 to claim her 17th singles Grand Slam title. Along with that she has 13 women’s doubles titles and two mixed doubles titles which puts her in the pantheon of greats as far as the woman’s game is concerned. Only Steffi Graff has more singles titles with 22 in the Open Era with Margaret Court holding the all-time record with 24.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing though. Handed a racket when she was four, her dad pulled her and her sister Venus out of junior national tournaments after encountering racist comments by white children’s parents. She also battled depression during the 2006 season which led to her seeking therapy and she has also suffered numerous injuries through the years. While it has been quite a rollercoaster ride, there’s no doubting the impact she has had on women’s tennis.
Very few tennis players have spent so much time at the top. Williams’ achievements are even more exceptional considering she plays an extremely powerful baseline game which requires tremendous athleticism and fitness.
Tennis is a gruelling game and it’s vital to stick to a regime that not only maintains one’s body in tiptop condition but also helps prevent injuries. Interestingly, Serena had a bad bout of injuries some years ago which led her to consult ace sports trainer Mackie Shilstone who devised a fitness and diet routine for her to find her top form. The regime consisted of drills which looked to improve muscle functionality from head to toe, increase flexibility and endurance.
Her typical day consists of a couple of hours of tennis, half an hour of strength training followed up by cardio in the gym. She also does Pilates 3-4 times a week and practices Bikram yoga. For the uninitiated, Bikram yoga is an offshoot of hatha yoga which uses two breathing exercises combined with 26 different postures. It’s usually practised in a room at 105 degree F and 40% humidity. While there’s some controversy attached to this type of yoga and traditional practitioners frown upon yoga being performed in such conditions, the regime has proved very popular with celebrities like Andy Murray, George Clooney, Beyoncé Knowles, Demi Moore, Daniel Craig, David Beckham and Madonna. She also does Pilates to improve her body balance and strengthen her core since tennis players have a tendency to use one side of their body much more than the other which can cause imbalance.
Like most athletes, Serena recognises the importance of a well-rounded diet and she focusses on eating small meals every day which earlier consisted of steamed veggies and grilled fish or chicken. However, recently she seems to have ditched the meat from her diet and had gone on a completely vegan diet sometime before the French Open in June (which she won). Hopefully, this gets rid of the notion that you can’t maintain musculature or get enough proteins on a no non-veg diet because Williams certainly does not resemble a coat-hanger.
In many ways, along with her sister Venus, Serena has redefined the women’s tennis game, more so with her ability to stay at the top of her game when most of her contemporaries are thinking of retiring. One certainly hopes that the end is not near and Serena will go on to dominate the game for years to come.