“Well, she always knows her place, she’s got style, she’s got grace, She’s a winner...”
Sorry, I can’t seem to stop humming Tom Jones this morning, as I check out Serena Williams’ winning look and performance on Monday night at the US Open.
‘Cause she’s a lady—in every possible sense of the word.
Wearing a ballerina-inspired, one-sleeved tennis dress with an illusion neckline, Williams made a graceful return to the tournament on Monday, clinching her first round win against Poland’s Magda Linette. And while we can’t give credit for her powerful performance to her Off-White x Nike dress and sneakers—designed by fellow phenom Virgil Abloh—it did feel like her black-and-brown ensemble added an extra dash of black girl magic as Williams continued to battle her way back up through the rankings after a prolonged maternity leave and rocky reentry.
Of course, William’s tulle-skirted dress also makes quite a statement in light of the French Tennis Federation’s recent ban on less traditional court attire last week. Williams’ dynamic May 2018 compression catsuit was cited as an example and potential impetus for stricter guidelines, raising eyebrows and accusations of discrimination—especially as Williams wore the suit for health reasons. Fellow tennis legends Andy Roddick and Billie Jean King immediately jumped to Williams’ defense, with the latter tweeting:
The policing of women’s bodies must end. The “respect” that’s needed is for the exceptional talent [Serena Williams] brings to the game. Criticizing what she wears to work is where the true disrespect lies.
But Williams was clearly unruffled by the controversy as she returned to the court in the tennis center named for King, making it clear that however much she may love making a fashion statement, it’s not the clothes that make the woman—or the winner. After all, Williams envisioned competing in the US Open long before she ever arrived there (let alone scored multiple wins); as evidenced by a new spot by sponsor Nike, released to coincide with Williams’ first return to the tournament in two years.
In the chill-inducing commercial, we’re treated to vintage footage and audio of the then-prodigy being diligently coached by father Richard Williams, who narrates her maneuvers via voiceover as he encourages her to imagine herself at the US Open. As senior editor (and fellow father) Stephen Crockett noted: “looking at that footage, he seems like a black dad preparing his black daughter to handle white supremacy—he literally had Serena envisioning herself at the US Open at 9!”
So, maybe it’s not the fashion that made Williams’ win on Monday feel so magical, but the triumphant return of a woman who has always known her place is at the top of her game. Either way, we’ll be watching to see what magic she has in store for us next.