With this year’s U.S. Open expected to be Serena William’s last ahead of her retirement, all eyes are on her remarkable career. So, of course, it’s fitting that the tennis icon’s daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. (also known as Olympia) is marking the occasion by serving up a historic look worn by the greatest of all time.
For Monday night’s match, Serena Williams’ daughter Olympia cheered on her famous mom from the stands as she squared off against Danka Kovinic. The 4-year-old, whose father is Williams’ husband Alexis Ohanian, wore braided cornrows adorned with white beads, a look close to the one her mother and aunt Venus Williams wore during their early appearances on the world tennis courts.
Specifically, Serena Williams wore a similar look in 1997 at her first U.S. Open. At the time, Williams was 16 years old. Still, her game put forth a message beyond her years.
Beyond breaking the mold of typical tennis hairstyles at the time, the look worn by the two Black tennis stars sent a message to aspiring Black athletes: people of color could take up space in the white-dominated sport of tennis.
In 2022 the Library of Congress highlighted the significance of braids in Black history and communities around the globe. Most significantly, the hairstyle was used hundreds of years ago as a way for African tribes to distinguish their identity. In recent reflections on her career, Serena Williams has spoken about how her decision to wear braids on the court stemmed from a sense of Black pride.
“Venus and I started out being successful, continued to be successful, and we were also unapologetically ourselves,” she told Allure in a 2019 interview. “We were not afraid to wear braids. We weren’t afraid to be black in tennis. And that was different.”
That same year, the tennis superstar opened up about instilling Black pride in her daughter by sharing the practice of braiding with her.
“Braiding started in Africa with the Himba people of Namibia. We have been braiding our hair for centuries,” she explained in a post shared on her Instagram in 2019. “In many African tribes, braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe. Because of the time it would take people would often take the time to socialize. It began with the elders braiding their children, then the children would watch and learn from them. The tradition of bonding was carried on for generations, and quickly made its way across the world. I am honored to share this bonding experience with my own daughter and add another generation of historic traditions.”