Serena Williams has been named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated, the premier sports magazine in the United States.
The 34-year-old Williams defied her age in 2015, winning 53 matches and losing only three, while taking three of the four major tennis tournaments — the Australian and French Opens and Wimbledon. She fell short of her quest for the calendar year Grand Slam when she lost in the semifinals of the U.S. Open in September.
For six weeks during the summer, Williams achieved a first in the history of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) rankings — she compiled so many ratings points that she had twice as many as the world No. 2. And, incredibly, at one point the gap between her and No. 2 was greater than that between No. 2 and No. 1,000.
The magazine's cover photo of Williams this week was her own inspiration, according to managing editor Christian Stone. It shows Williams in high heels in a one-piece black lace leotard, sitting on a gold throne, with one of her bare legs over an arm of the chair. Stone wrote on SI.com that it was "intended ... to express her own ideal of femininity, strength, power."
Stone added that, among other things, Sports Illustrated honored Williams for her entire career of excellence, including her 21 Grand Slam titles that has her only one short of German Steffi Graf's Open Era Slam record.
Monday's announcement brought a change to the formal name of the annual SI award that has been handed out since 1954, when Britain's Roger Bannister got the honor for running the first sub-4 minute mile. Past recipients were touted as Sportsman or Sportswoman of the Year. It's now Sportsperson of the Year.
Some years, the award has had multiple recipients, as in 1999 when the U.S. Women's Soccer Team was honored for becoming World Cup Champions when the U.S. hosted the tournament.
It's been 32 years since a female alone has been so honored. Double Olympic champion runner Mary Decker of the United States won the award in 1983.
Past recipients have included basketball stars Bill Russell, Tim Duncan and LeBron James; football quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre; baseball players Cal Ripken Jr. and Derek Jeter; golfers Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods; and swimmer Michael Phelps.
Other tennis players honored were Billie Jean King in 1972, Chris Evert in 1976 and Arthur Ashe in 1992.
The SI award has been dominated by Americans. There have been only five solo recipients who were not from the United States.