The last time you were crippled with the flu, chances are you spent a good few days wearing PJs and a morose expression, and the idea of exercise - strenuous or otherwise - was laughable. You certainly didn't walk onto a tennis court in front of dozens of cameras and win the French Open for the third time in your career. Serena Williams did exactly that last month, and she did so in front of a crowd of thousands while still looking impossibly stylish in neon purple and orange.

The tennis star is now halfway towards a calendar slam - securing wins for the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open in one calendar year - a feat that hasn't occurred in women's tennis since Steffi Graf's legendary sweep in 1988.

As if it wasn't enough to be ranked No 1 in the world for women's singles tennis with 20 Grand Slam singles titles under her belt, Williams is also a recognised fashion icon. Thanks to her colourful outfits over the years, we've come a long way from stark tennis whites. Graf, Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova were certainly the forerunners in bringing style onto the courts (the latter designed all her own uniforms), but Williams and her sister Venus were the ones who had us clutching our pearls at their daring sequins, catsuits, and red and black lace numbers.

Not content with simply wearing head-turning outfits, Williams took her passion for fashion a step further and designed her own clothing line. "It's nice to combine my love for fashion with my love for tennis," says Williams, who adds that if she couldn't have a career in tennis, she'd look towards the fashion world - "although I love playing tennis, so I try not to think about what I'd be doing differently".

The ambitious tennis star first dipped her toe in the sartorial pool back in 2003, when she launched Aneres, a clothing line that was touted to be close to getting a distribution deal with a major retailer in 2007. These plans were later shelved but, undeterred, Williams launched her Signature Statement Collection on the Home Shopping Network (HSN) in 2009. This line, originally limited to accessories including handbags and jewellery, has since branched out to ready-to-wear, and Williams debuted this casual yet chic collection at New York Fashion Week in September last year. The flowing silhouettes, comfortable materials and, of course, the animal prints inspired by the athlete's famous leopard-print dresses were a hit with the audience, which included US Vogue editor Anna Wintour in the front row.

Her winning combination of athleticism and personal flair has certainly been noted by those outside the fashion world. In December last year, one month after her debut runway show and three months after her 18th Grand Slam singles win at Flushing Meadows, luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet officially announced that Williams was their new "friend", a relationship is reserved only for those who embody the brand's philosophy: "To break the rules, you must first master them".

Williams is certainly one such person. She won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open when she was 17, a scant two years after her sister lost to Martina Hingis at the same final.

While Williams did beat her sister to the trophy all those years ago, she is quick to acknowledge that if it weren't for Venus, she would not be the athlete that she is today.

"Growing up, I always wanted to be like Venus. Venus was playing tennis, so I wanted to play tennis," Williams remembers, adding that it has been rewarding to see the impact they've had on the sport and young aspiring athletes. "I am so happy to see how the sport has become more and more popular. I hope that Venus, [myself] and all the other female athletes have been an inspiration to younger kids coming up."

She points out that the rest of her family has been similarly essential to her current success. "My greatest source of inspiration has come from my parents," she says. "They've always supported and inspired us to do our best in anything we set our minds to."

Williams is keen to offer this same unwavering support to those who are less fortunate. In 2008, she set up the Serena Williams Foundation, which helps youth affected by violent crime in the US, and educating underprivileged youth around the world.

Despite her many impressive achievements, Williams is remarkably down-to-earth about her fame. "It's all very humbling," she says. "I love what I do and have worked very hard to get where I am, but no matter what, it is an honour to be recognised."

Wimbledon ends on the 12th of this month, and the US Open begins on August 31. Whether Williams brings home the lauded calendar slam or not, however, has little bearing on her success and the admiration she inspires.

Designer, businesswoman and one of the greatest professional athletes in the world - whether her work is on or off the court, we think it's game, set and match to Serena Williams.

 

M I L E S T O N E S

1981
Born in Saginaw, Michigan
1999
Beats her sister Venus Williams and wins the US Open, becoming the first of the sisters to claim a Grand Slam singles title
Enrols at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in Florida for fashion design
2002
Ascends to No 1 in the Women's Tennis Association world rankings for the first time
2004
Launches Aneres clothing line
2008
Sets up Serena Williams Foundation
2009
Launches Signature Statement, a collection of handbags and jewellery
2014
Debuts fashion line at New York Fashion Week
2015
Claims her 20th Grand Slam singles title after winning the French Open

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