So says Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post:
Serena Williams is a lesson in the varieties of strength. There is absolute strength, explosive strength, sustained strength. All of which she has, to one extent or another. And then there is the out-of-category strength it took to return to the top of her profession at 36 years old with a baby on her shoulder and scars on her belly and in her lungs from the childbirth ordeal that almost killed her.
Nothing against Angelique Kerber, who is a great champion, but Kerber was playing just one opponent in the Wimbledon final. Williams was playing against a lot of them, including time and nature. In the end, time and nature won, but didn’t Williams give them a run for their money?
In addition to the C-section and the blood clots and the baby weight, there was a torn pectoral muscle that meant she couldn’t serve for three weeks. A touch of something was missing off that serve, a lack of heat. The feet were a tad slow, which made the ball tick the net or spin just beyond the baseline. Result: 6-3, 6-3. Afterward, her voice broke as she said: “To all the moms out there, I was playing for you today. And I tried.”
It was only her fourth tournament back. There hasn’t even been a full change of seasons since Alexis Olympia was born in September, followed by weeks of medical complications, to which Williams was startlingly defenseless despite all of her wealth and winning. In dealing with them she demonstrated a more commonplace kind of strength, one that doesn’t make her world class but rather is shared by innumerable women.
It’s a brand shared in particular by black women in America, who are three to four times more likely to suffer from life-threatening childbirth complications than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. One speculative reason for this is something called allostasis, which is the body’s response to withering lifelong stressors and challenges. Another is that “doctors aren’t listening to us, just to be quite frank,” Williams said in an interview with the BBC this spring.
For a few years now, Williams has been taking a slow walk toward becoming a powerful social messenger and an influencer on the level of a Billie Jean King, addressing issues from the gender pay gap to body image to sexism in Silicon Valley. There was a time when Williams was a somewhat facetious interview. Not anymore. At a pre-tournament news conference podium, she ruminated on myths around breast feeding. “I feel like everyone says, ‘You’re so thin when you breast-feed.’ I’m going to be totally frank . . . ” she said: