Why Sports Illustrated Named Serena Williams its Sportsperson of the Year

Day Twelve: The Championships - Wimbledon 2015
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 11: Serena Williams of United States celebrates with the trophy after winning the Final of the Ladies Singles against Garbine Muguruza of Spain during the day twelve of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 11, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Photograph by Julian Finney — Getty Images

After a tremendous year that saw her claim three straight major titles in a row—and achieve at least as many big wins off-court—Serena Williams has been named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year.

Although a shock upset in the semis of the U.S. Open prevented Williams from achieving a calendar year “Grand Slam,” a rare feat that requires winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open in a single year, her overall record is unimpeachable. She racked up three major titles in 2015 and held onto her No. 1 ranking for a third year, a performance that SI called “reason enough” to hand her the honor.

Williams also proved herself to be a fan favorite and a major boon for the sport. Take the “Serena effect,” as just one example: U.S. Open ticket prices surged as she drew closer to winning. And then plunged dramatically after her loss.

She made headlines off the court as well. Williams took a more prominent stance on racial inequality this year, penning an essay for Time about her return to a tournament in Indian Wells, California, which she’d avoided for 13 years due to what her family has called racism by fans. She also advocated for gender equality in Silicon Valley as a guest editor for Wired.

Sports Illustrated notes her business prowess—in addition to outside endorsements, Williams has her own fashion line—and her philanthropic work in Africa as prime examples of her achievements in 2015.

For those reasons and others, Williams becomes the first female pick for the honor since University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summit shared the title with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in 2011. This isn’t the first time SI has honored a women tennis star: Chris Evert and Billie Jean King claimed the distinction in 1976 and 1972, respectively. As for male tennis players, Arthur Ashe was recognized in 1992.

“This year was spectacular,” said Williams in a statement. “For Sports Illustrated to recognize my hard work, dedication and sheer determination with this award gives me hope to continue on and do better. As I always say, it takes a village— not just one person.”

“This is not just an accomplishment for me, but for my whole team and all my fans,” she added. “I am beyond honored.”

So, after ruling 2015, what does the coming year hold for Williams? Fortune, for one, is expecting big things. Although Williams’ endorsements have lagged behind those of rival Maria Sharapova, we are predicting that Williams will see those deals spike in the year ahead. And ringing in 2016 as SI‘s Sportsperson of the Year sure won’t hurt.


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