Serena Williams may not be the defending Wimbledon champion – that honour falls to Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic – but she will begin the grass-court spectacular next week as top seed in the women’s draw and still firmly on target to complete the full set of 2015 Grand Slam titles.
Williams has long since established herself as one of the most recognisable and successful athletes on the planet – her first Grand Slam title of the 20 currently to her name was won as long ago as 1999, when she beat Martina Hingis to win the US Open as the 18-year old sister of Venus Williams. The likes of Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport and Jana Novotná all played in that tournament, underlining Williams’ remarkable longevity at the top of a game where careers have traditionally been short.
When she arrives at the All England Club in London next week, Williams will be bidding for a sixth Wimbledon title and step three of what would be a remarkable calendar Grand Slam – victories in each of the Australian, French, Wimbledon and US Open tournaments in a single season. Only Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graff in 1988 have achieved the milestone but victories this year in Melbourne, defeating Maria Sharapova in straight sets, and in Paris at the French Open earlier this month, where Lucie Šafářová was dispatched 6-2 in the final set, mean Williams, now 33, is halfway to history.
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An enviable commercial portfolio
Williams’ career prize money is already edging towards the US$70 million mark – more than any other female athlete in history and virtually double that of her major rival on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour Sharapova – while her total endorsement income this year will be around U$12 million, according to Repucom market intelligence.
Since switching from Puma in 2003, Williams has been on the books of US sportswear giant Nike; an initial five-year deal is now well into its second decade. She has collaborated on lines for nail polish company OPI since 2010, plays with Wilson rackets, and endorses Gatorade and Sleep Sheets, a melt-in-the-mouth strip with melatonin. Since 2009 she has held a small equity stakes in Mission Skincare and the Miami Dolphins National Football League (NFL) team.
“Serena Williams is an excellent brand ambassador for her sponsors from within the athletic sector and otherwise,” notes Peter Laatz, Repucom Executive Vice President.
“In addition to being a very dominant athlete, she has also broken through the ranks as a pop culture icon. While consistently performing at a top level on-court, she has made cameo appearances in television and films, appeared on the covers of fashion magazines and attracted a huge social media following. She is one of those celebrities who shares genuine life moments, highlighting imperfections while finding natural ways to showcase partner brands.”
Setting the trends
Nearer the end of her career than the start she may be, but Williams’ current status in the game, combined with her activities off-court and social media presence, have changed the way Americans view an athlete who, for the record, also has four Olympic gold medals to her name.
Of the 92 per cent of people in the US aware of Williams in 2008, a period in which the world number one spot was juggled on a near-weekly basis between her, Sharapova and the likes of Ana Ivanonic, Jelena Janković and even Dinara Safina, just under half regarded her as a trendsetter, according to Repucom’s Celebrity DBI tool.
By last season, now firmly established as the world’s number one player, Williams’ awareness in her homeland had dipped to 87 per cent, but of those people nearly 70 per cent look to her as a trendsetter.
Following her victory at last September’s US Open and during her run of Grand Slam success since then, Williams has added several other brands to her endorsement portfolio, further evidence of her enduring appeal and continuing success – according to Celebrity DBI, she is trusted by 68 per cent of those aware of her in the US as of 2014, up from 49 per cent in 2008.
In December, Williams was unveiled as a new ‘friend’ of watch brand Audemars Piguet, and in January appeared in a campaign for Australian lingerie and sports bra brand Berlei. March, meanwhile, saw her signed up to star in adverts for PepsiCo, Gatorade’s parent, as part of the company’s ‘Pepsi Challenge’ strand. In recent months, she has also designed a clothing line for US shopping channel HSN. There’s been just enough time to win three Grand Slams in a row.
As Wimbledon begins and the rush to anoint new superstars of women’s tennis continues, it would be wise not to write off the sport’s dominant force just yet.