Serena Williams is already considered a hero in many respects. She has won 23 Grand Slams – the first tennis player in history to do so – appeared on the cover of Vogue, twice, and more recently, has wooed millions with endless, gushing Instagram posts about her aptly named daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.
But, sometimes, even the most lauded of sports superstars needs reminding of their excellence. For Williams, who returned to competing in her first major match six months after giving birth, that reminder came in the form of a sleek, black catsuit. “It's kind of my way of being a superhero,” she said, after her triumphant game against Kristýna Plíšková at the French Open on Tuesday.
“It feels like this suit represents all the women that have been through a lot mentally, physically, with their body to come back and have confidence and to believe in themselves,” she added.
As many people who have ever had to return to work after a pregnancy concede, there is an acute pressure to re-establish connections, esteem and, in Williams’ case, her number one world ranking (Williams is currently number 451 in the world, due to the fact that she had not competed in a Grand Slam since 2017).
I feel like a warrior wearing it, a queen from Wakanda maybe
While being unseeded doesn’t necessarily mean that Williams has no chance of returning to her former number one world ranking, the issue does feed into debates about the wider pressures on people who return to work. Like many of Williams’ victories, her latest has become a symbol for something bigger than her individual success.
Speaking of the widely celebrated outfit, she said, in a nod to blockbuster film Black Panther, it made her feel “like a warrior wearing it, a queen from Wakanda”. She also discussed the functionality of her Nike catsuit, given the fact that she has suffered from blood clots – which almost caused her death after the birth of her daughter: “I had a lot of problems with my blood clots, and, God, I don’t know how many I have had in the past 12 months. So it is definitely a little functionality to it.”
“I have been wearing pants in general a lot when I play, so I can keep the blood circulation going. It’s a fun suit but it’s also functional, so I can be able to play without any problems.”
Moments like these, in which Williams proudly shows her tenacity in the face of adversity, are the real joys many of us glean from her. A symbolic superhero she may be, but, underneath it all, Williams is human – as she has reminded us this week.