When Serena Williams defeated Anett Kontaveit in the second round of the US Open on August 31, the atmosphere in the arena was electric. Famous fans from Bella Hadid to Tiger Woods leapt to their feet with a cheer while Williams, diplomatic as ever, headed to the net to congratulate Kontaveit on a hard-fought match.
As the world’s greatest-living tennis player plays what may be her final high-profile matches before supposed retirement, the world at large is reveling in Williams’ peerless career. But, even as the major moments set social media aflame, there are still some savvy fans taking note of the little moments.
One viral tweet, for instance, cannily notes the evolution of Williams’ hair, a worthy reflection of the growth that took led up to Williams’ 2022 US Open performance.
Back in 1999, when she won her first US Open, Williams wore white beads in her hair. She’d continue wearing variations of that hairstyle over the years, often employing multicolored beads for extra flash against her mostly muted on-court outfits.
Professional tennis, like most other top-tier sports, has strict dress codes, you see. Williams’ beads were a glimmer of mid-game vibrancy, a pop of personality amidst a serious sport.
But tennis, codified as sport of rich white Europeans, is especially snooty. Williams has clashed with tennis leadership’s sexist clothing restrictions in the past, just one of many discriminatory roadblocks that Williams has smashed through while establishing her influence.
Now an elder stateswoman of the game, Williams takes flash to the next level. Her 2022 Us Open look, for instance, comprises a sparkling bodice and skirt set to match her custom NikeCourt Flare 2s, finished with hundreds of hand-set diamonds.
And, most importantly, Williams’ hair is dotted with Swarovski crystals. Okay, they’re not diamonds but they shine no less brightly and are a much better accessory for an athlete on the move.
The side-by-side juxtaposition of the beads Williams sported in her early days to the glistening head of hair she’s currently wearing is a stark reminder of Williams’ immense growth as an athlete. She arrived long ago and she’s never left.
Williams’ daughter, Olympia, attended the US Open with an outfit embellished to match, complete with the white beads once worn by Serena herself.
This literal crystallization of Serena Williams’ legacy is also indicative of her stylistic growth, from a no-nonsense sportswoman to a veritable style icon.
Williams oversees a style-focused incubator program at Nike, for instance, which invites young people of color to gain valuable hands-on design experience at The Swoosh, with the potential for full-time employment.
Most notably, perhaps, Williams was close with late Off-White™ founder Virgil Abloh, who designed several tennis outfits for Williams, including one that was an indirect middle finger aimed at repressive tennis dress codes.
She was one of the core inspirations for Virgil Abloh’s “QUEENS” collection, which included collaborative Off-White™ sneakers and apparel.
At the runway show where Off-White™ premiered Virgil Abloh’s final collection, a series of close fans walked wearing his clothes. Serena Williams was among them.
As she takes her own victory lap, Williams is similarly surrounded by a cast of admirers and peers, her sparkling hair and outfit a wearable lifetime achievement award.