Serena Williams

Week 75 (7 - 13 March 2015)

Serena Williams could well move into sports politics one day.

This week the 33-year-old American has been a prominent figure in the news talking about her return to the Indian Wells tennis tournament after a 14-year avoidance. And the communications campaign around her decision has been nothing short of statesmanlike. It started with an Op-Ed on Time magazine's website last month, since when she has delivered engaging performances in press conferences and has leveraged the exposure her decision has garnered to highlight mass incarceration – with every donation to her cause going to the Equal Justice Initiative, a criminal justice group in the USA.

It's been just as impressive a media display as the performances which have led her to an incredible 34 Grand Slam titles in her tennis career so far.

To briefly re-cap, in 2001 in Indian Wells, Williams was booed and jeered by the home crowd, her home crowd, throughout her ladies singles final with Kim Clijsters.

Williams eventually won the match but the scars have stayed with her as she believes that the crowd's antipathy towards her, provoked by her sister Venus's withdrawal through tendonitis ahead of their semi-final, carried an "undercurrent of racism".

Since that day, neither Williams sister has participated in the tournament. Serena's return has therefore generated a major amount of press coverage. But she herself has moved the narrative on from what happened 14 years ago and has instead spoken in more general terms about overcoming one's fears – a message which, as the most decorated female tennis player still on the WTA Tour, will have carried far and wide.

She said this week: "I'm looking forward to stepping out and letting the whole world know that it doesn't matter what you faced - whether it's something that hurt you or hurt your family - you can just come out and be strong and say I'm still going to survive and I'm still going to be the best person that I can be."

Adding: "If you are in a position where you can stand up and speak and be a role model, then why not do it?

"I feel like this is the perfect opportunity for me to do that."

Serena's return to Indian Wells is no personal crusade - it is the act of a sports star aware of their true influence who is determined to use that influence to inspire a wider audience.

Photo:  Flickr