At 17, I won my first Grand Slam, and I knew I had more in me. In fact, I was so sure that when I packed up my life and left my dad’s house to move in with my sister Venus, I told him he could keep my US Open trophy.
Don’t worry, I assured him. I would get another one for my house. Now that was confidence. I went on to win the US Open not one or two but six times.
Since that fateful victory in 1999, I’ve won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 39 Grand Slam titles in all, and countless gold medals.
When I’m giving speeches I always say how important it is to love what you do. If you don’t, then find something that speaks to you. Follow your passion. Of course, there are times when loving tennis is hard.
Fast-forward to September 2018. It’s the final of the US Open, and I’m competing to win my 24th Grand Slam against Naomi Osaka.
It’s the beginning of the second set, and the umpire thinks he spots my coach signaling me from the stands.
He issues a violation—a warning. I approach him and emphatically state the truth: that I wasn’t looking at my coach. “I don’t cheat to win.
I feel passionately compelled to stand up for myself. I call him a thief; I again demand an apology. I tell him he is penalizing me for being a woman. He responds by issuing a third violation and takes a game from me.
In the end, my opponent simply played better than me that day and ended up winning her first Grand Slam title. I could not have been happier for her.
As for me, I felt defeated and disrespected by a sport that I love—one that I had dedicated my life to and that my family truly changed, not because we were welcomed, but because we wouldn’t stop winning.
After the Open, I returned home to Florida. Every night, as I would try to go to sleep, unresolved questions ran through my mind in a never-ending loop: How can you take a game away from me in the final of a Grand Slam?
Really, how can you take a game away from anyone at any stage of any tournament? I turn over, exhausted from lack of sleep, thoughts still spinning in my head.
Why can’t I express my frustrations like everyone else? If I were a man, would I be in this situation? What makes me so different? Is it because I’m a woman?
I stop myself to avoid getting worked up. I tell myself, “You’ve been through so much, you’ve endured so much, time will allow me to heal, and soon this will be just another memory that made me the strong woman, athlete, and mother I am today.”