Serena Williams has been named the 2015 SI Sportsperson of the Year, becoming the first active tennis player since Chris Evert in 1976 to earn the distinction. The annual award honors the athlete, team coach, or individual who, by virtue of performance and character on and off the field, transcended the year in sports.
Serena is the first active female athlete to win the award since the World Cup-winning US Women's National Team in 1999. She is the fourth tennis player to win the award. Billie Jean King was the first female winner in 1972, followed by Evert in 1976. Arthur Ashe was named Sportsman of the Year in 1994 for his post-career humanitarian efforts.
All year Williams kept coming, on a path more arduous than anyone knew, and she put together the best season by a woman in a quarter century. "I do want to be known as the greatest ever," she says. To many she already is. But that's not the sole reason why we arrive, now, at this honor. It's also because Williams kept pushing herself to grow, to be better, and tennis was the least of it. The trying is what's impressive. The trying is why we are here.
Sports Illustrated's Managing Editor Chris Stone sums it up here:
Sports Illustrated honors her dominance in 2015, when she won 53 of her 56 matches, three of the four Grand Slam events and built the most yawning ranking points gap between her and her closest competitor in tennis history. We honor her, too, for a career of excellence, her stranglehold on the game's No.1 ranking and her 21 Grand Slam titles, a total that has her on the brink of Steffi Graf's Open Era Slam record, which Williams will likely eclipse by mid-summer.
But we are honoring Serena Williams too for reasons that hang in the grayer, less comfortable ether, where issues such as race and femininity collide with the games. Race was used as a cudgel against Williams at Indian Wells in 2001, and she returned the blow with a 14-year self-exile from the tournament. She returned to Indian Wells in '15, a conciliator seeking to raise the level of discourse about hard questions, the hardest ones, really. Williams, S.L. Price writes in his cover story in the Dec. 21 issue, "proffered an open hand. Far past the time that anyone expected it, she demonstrated a capacity for change - innovation if you will. She's groping for answers and realizing she has much to learn.
Read WTA Insider's tribute to Serena's astounding 2015 year, one that saw her endure, embrace, and overcome a multitude of obstacles en route to a magical season.
Listen to the interview with WTA Insider in this week's podcast: