Nike Calls Serena Williams the Greatest Athlete Ever in This Striking U.S. Open Ad

Quiet, career-spanning tribute spot speaks volumes

Headshot of Kristina Monllos

At a press conference at Wimbledon in July, a reporter asked Serena Williams how she felt about going down in the history books as "one of the greatest female athletes of all time." She responded simply, "I prefer the words 'one of the greatest athletes of all time.' "

With just a few words, the winner of 22 Grand Slam singles titles was able to combat the subtle sexism that permeates how female athletes are treated by the media.

Now, just two months later, Nike uses that moment as inspiration for its latest 60-second spot, a celebration of all that makes Williams great, timed to the U.S. Open. 

The spot, part of Nike's "Unlimited" series from Wieden + Kennedy, goes a step further in its assessment of Williams, deeming her the "greatest athlete ever" (after striking the word female from its own onscreen copy). 

The ad uses the just a few of those on-screen words to condense Williams' many accomplishments into an easily digestible narrative (even if it's cryptic at first). The creative is stripped down, which works, though it might have benefited from more visuals matching the captions. Film is a visual medium after all. 

Nike provided this a reference key for the on-screen text: 

  • Compton—Serena Williams swung her first racket at the age of 3 in Compton, Calif., soon after her family moved from Michigan.
  • Sister, Outsider—Along with her sister, Williams proved that precocious talent always trumps preconceptions.
  • Pro—Williams turned pro in 1995, when she was 14.
  • #304—Two years later, with a ranking of 304, she beat two top 10 opponents and became the lowest-ranked player in history to achieve this feat.
  • Winner—In 1999, she claimed her first slam and rose to No. 4.
  • Top 10—The following two years, for the first time, she ranked in top 10.
  • Paris, London, New York—In 2002, Williams took Paris, London and New York—plus the No. 1 ranking.
  • Melbourne—A 2003 victory in Melbourne solidified her first "Serena Slam."
  • Injured—Injury briefly derailed William's game but never her drive. She dropped to No. 139 in 2006, struggled with confidence and critics labeled her obsolete.
  • Struggling—Williams responded by winning Melbourne in 2007, as an unseeded player, completing the year among the sport's top 10.
  • No. 169—After another bout of injury, she declined to 169, but quickly battled back and resumed her ascent.
  • Done, comeback, focused—In 2013, she became the oldest player ever to earn the rank of No. 1.
  • No. 1—Williams held the top spot through 2014—the second woman to retain it for a full year—and took her sixth title in New York.
  • Legend—Today, she is revered as the greatest and her influence transcends the game of tennis.

There's also a cool out-of-home component to the campaign.

The company also gathered a variety of athletes, as well as comedian Kevin Hart, to send a message of support to Williams as she competes at the U.S. Open (see below). The messages are clearly sincere and heartfelt, which makes the video—it's an ad, after all, so they're all prominently wearing Nike gear—work better on an emotional level. 

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.