Book Review : Serena Williams

Author: Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

Book reviewed by Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Hardcover: 208 pages

Ever since Serena Williams burst on the scene, several books have been written chronicling her life as a tennis player. However, there aren’t many books, which analyze Serena Williams beyond the tennis court. Merlisa Lawrence Corbett’s book titled Serena Williams differentiates itself from the pack in the sense that it one of the first books to analyze Serena from a multi-dimensional perspective.

If one is looking for a book that discusses Serena’s exploits on the tennis court, one might have to look elsewhere. But if one wants to understand and appreciate Serena’s transcending nature beyond sports, then this 208-page book is an excellent place to start. In the author’s words, “Her life is more than a sports story. “Professional athlete” is far too minuscule a title for someone whose impact on society leaps off the sports pages and into business publications, fashion magazines, and academic journals.”

The author, a sports journalist who has written for Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, Tennis View and Black Tennis, has the relevant credentials to cover this subject. She presents a three-dimensional portrait of the multi Grand Slam winner as a tennis champion, sports legend and cultural icon. The first three chapters cover Serena’s upbringing, on-court success and her relationship with her sister Venus Williams.

Serena is one of the most recognizable women in the world, so it comes as no surprise that Corbett devotes a chapter to Serena’s impact on gender issues. The author argues that Serena Williams has reshaped the conversation about body image and is an embodiment of black girl magic who represents a psychological payback for black women. Corbett also describes Serena as a digital age activist who is “Not afraid to speak up on issues that divide people along racial, cultural, and political lines.”

So far, I have been able to witness Serena win 10 Grand Slams. Still, the most impressive demonstration of Serena’s tenacity I have ever seen was when I watched her play Daniela Hantuchova at 2007 Wimbledon. During the second set, she tore her calf muscle, which restricted her movement on the court. Despite this setback, she still managed to overcome the pain barrier to win the match. The author devotes a chapter discussing what she calls Serena’s second act — her return to the sports after her pregnancy, which came with substantial health challenges.

In the concluding chapter, the author makes a case for Serena’s coronation as the GREATEST OF ALL TIMES by using four criteria: longevity, dominance, performance and titles. The book is a page-turner and should be neatly placed in the library of every Black Studies department and every member of the #RenasArmy.

Ahmed Sule


Writer and social critic