Tennis legend Venus Williams turns 41-years-old today. The American is one of the most celebrated sportswomen of all time, earning seven Grand Slams during an illustrious career.
Williams began playing tennis with her younger sister Serena on the public courts of Los Angeles. Both girls were quickly identified as having incredible talent – Williams turned professional in 1994, aged just 14.
Williams is now coming to the end of an incredible career, which has included five victories at Wimbledon and two US Open titles. To celebrate the icon’s 41st birthday, GiveMeSport Women selects five facts you should know about the tennis player.
First Black woman to become world number one
As a result of her success on the court, Williams enjoyed a total of 11 weeks as singles number one and eight weeks at the top of the doubles standings.
She first became singles world number one in February 2002, becoming the first Black woman to achieve the feat in the Open era. In addition, Williams was only the second Black woman in history to top the tennis standings, following Althea Gibson in 1957.
Trailblazer in the battle for equal pay
Williams played a major part in securing equal pay for male and female players at all four Grand Slam tournaments.
The US Open became the first Grand Slam to offer equal pay in 1973, followed by the Australian Open in 2001. The French Open and Wimbledon were still discriminating against their female competitors, however.
At this point, Williams was at the peak of her career and the highest-paid female athlete in the world. She used her influence to lobby the Grand Slam Board, meeting with representatives the day before she won her third Wimbledon title in 2005.
Her relentless pressure eventually paid off. The French Open agreed to offer equal pay in 2006, before Wimbledon finally stepped in line with the other Grand Slams in 2007. That year, Williams took to the court and won, earning as much prize money as men’s champion Roger Federer.
Olympic success with Serena
Williams often played against her sister Serena, who has an incredible 23 Grand Slam titles to her name. They weren’t just rivals on the court, though. The siblings often competed in doubles events together. In fact, Venus competed in a doubles event for the first time without her sister only this month.
Together, the Williams sisters managed 14 Grand Slam doubles triumphs and also boasted an impressive record in the Olympics. They claimed three gold medals in the doubles competition, triumphing at Sydney 2000, Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
One of the fastest serves in the game
Williams is one of the fastest servers in women’s tennis. She has hit a serve of 207.6 km/h twice in her career. The first came during a triumph against Kira Nagy at the 2007 US Open, while the second came against her sister Serena in the 2008 Wimbledon final.
This puts her second in the list of the fastest recorded tennis serves officially recognised by the WTA. Germany’s Sabine Lisicki tops the standings with a serve of 210.8 km/h at the Stanford Classic in 2014.
Serena Williams is just behind her sister in the rankings, achieving a serve of 207.0 km/h at the 2013 Australian Open.
Wildcard at Wimbledon
Retirement must be looming for Williams, who has now slipped to 103 in the world rankings. There is still opportunity to see her play, however, with the icon set to compete at Wimbledon as a wildcard.
Williams has not made it past the opening round at any tournament since progressing to the second round of the Australian Open in February – she will be hoping to end this poor record at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Competition starts on June 28th and will run until July 11th.