Serena Williams ready to serve at the 2013 US Open. Edwin Martinez/CCFLICKR

Growing up in Dubai, there was always a stigma surrounding women in sports. As an avid tennis player, I felt conflicted about pursuing the game because of the society where I had lived. I nearly gave up on tennis until I watched Serena Williams play for the first time. I was struck by her powerful physique and epic moves. Williams is an embodiment of everything girls weren’t allowed to be in my community: strong, confident, and fiercely competitive. In that moment, she became my hero.

Williams has worked for her success, and that level of grit and unbreakable determination continues to pay off for her. It helped her develop her intimidating forearm, and that legendary serve contributed to her victories, leading her to become a Grand Slam champion at the age of 17. Williams also holds the most Grand Slam titles of any active player across every category. In 2015, she won four Grand Slams in a row, an accomplishment so rare that it has been named after her — the “Serena Slam.”

She’s still going strong, surpassing all the limits and expectations placed on her. Despite being 36, roughly a decade older than when other great tennis players of the past retired, she’s still the best at the game. Williams has rewritten the record book for the sport and set new standards in the world of tennis. No other player, male or female, has revolutionized tennis in the way she has.

Without Williams’ influence, I might have experienced a childhood without sports. There were no women around me who played sports, but Williams made me feel normal for pursuing something that no other girls did where I lived. She inspired me to work hard, to always persevere in the face of adversity.

In my eyes, Williams is the greatest athlete of our time, and her impact on my life has been profound. Throughout every challenge she faces, Williams comes back greater than ever. Her sheer resilience and ability to inspire will be part of her legacy as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

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