How Serena Williams' $10 Million Season Reflects Her Legacy on and off the Court

Merlisa Lawrence CorbettFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2013

Serena Williams prepares to serve at 2013 WTA Championships.
Serena Williams prepares to serve at 2013 WTA Championships.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Serena Williams recently became the first women's tennis player to break the $10 million single-season earnings mark.

More than a milestone, Williams' $10 million season says as much about her influence off the court as it does about her dominance in the game. 

Williams defeated Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-2, 6-4, on Wednesday at the WTA Championships in Istanbul. She is 2-0 in the tournament. If she goes undefeated she will eclipse the $12 million mark. She has already earned more than $51 million in prize money in her career, more than any woman in the history of sports. 

Although Williams often gets credit for changing the way the game is played, she is seldom recognized for changing how women get paid. 

Along with her sister Venus, Williams ushered in the era of equal price money. Of course Billie Jean King and the establishment of the WTA got the ball rolling. But Williams knocked it out of the park.  

Serena Williams in 2009 collecting one of many big checks.
Serena Williams in 2009 collecting one of many big checks./Getty Images

Stacey Allaster, Chairman and CEO of the WTA, told the Telegraph that Williams was among leaders who fought for players, male and female, getting a larger share of the revenue at Grand Slams: "They started the debate that the players deserved fair compensation in the context of the revenues of the grand slams. Privately, the grand slams also engaged directly with us, and Serena was the leader in the room that day.”

In 2009, Williams reached $23 million in career prize money. That broke golfer Annika Sorenstam's record of most prize money earned by a female athlete. When Williams learned of the record, she remembered her first professional earnings, a paltry $240 for an event in Canada. She told ESPN "It's amazing how much women's tennis has grown since I joined the tour 14 years ago...I am very proud to have reached this milestone for me, my family and all women athletes out there."

The average ATP player still earns more prize money than the average WTA player. However, the Grand Slams award equal prize money.

According to Richard Lapchick, founder and director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida, Williams is directly responsible for many of the gains women have seen in tennis. In an interview with Bloomberg, Lapchick said: 

The fact that it’s really the only sport where women have parity in terms of income is a result of people like Serena standing up vocally and being willing to take action. Serena is a lot like Billie Jean King. She was not only a great tennis player and changed the way people view tennis, but she was an outstanding leader in terms of womens issues.

Williams' impact on other players goes beyond prize money. In February she became the oldest woman ever to hold the No. 1 ranking. Her late-career surge has influenced contemporaries like Jelena Jankovic.

Jankovic, 28, is experiencing a comeback late in her career and told's Beyond the Baseline that "There is no reason for me not to perform at such a high level. So I do not feel old. It shows, like people like Serena, at 32, she’s playing her best tennis and having the best year of her career, and I think that inspires all of us."