Love On and Off the Court | How Serena Williams and My Own Tennis Journey Inspire Transformation

Mona Khalil
4 min readOct 10, 2022

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John Muir High School Varsity Tennis Team in Pasadena, Calfornia

I love Nike’s ad,

“By changing nothing, she changed everything.”

Wieden + Kennedy Portland, an independent global advertising agency, released a brand film. Dan Wieden coined the “Just Do It” tagline. On September 30, 2022, Dan Widen passed away.

W+K Portland, in partnership with Nike and Zendaya, honored Serena Williams as a legend. The tribute is backed by DJ Khaled’s “Higher,” featuring John Legend and the late Nipsey Hussle. The ad was released after Serena played the third round at the US Open on September 2, 2022, against Ajla Tomljanovic.

It was Serena's last game before her career was set to evolve into what comes next. Watching Serena Williams play on August 29, 2022, at her last US Open made me emotional. And she won the first round — G.O.A.T. I watched Serena play singles and doubles on her last run at the US Open. Every game had me feeling all the feels and raised my heart rate.

Tennis is known to be a white sport. I watched Venus and Serena play growing up. They made me feel normal for loving the game. The only sport I cared to play was tennis. I was playing a sport nobody around me was playing, talking about, or watching until I got to high school.

You could choose to have P.E. or play a sport in high school. When I saw tennis listed, I had no hesitation in signing up. I didn’t know anyone else who picked tennis as we were going into the 9th grade. You didn’t know who enjoyed tennis until you saw them on the courts at tryouts. I played tennis all four years.

Through the sport, I now had a group of girls I could play with who weren’t judging me and brought out the best in me. Looking back, the sport allowed me to release the emotions I would hold in my body. Tennis is an individual and team sport. I enjoy both aspects. I had a partner in my sophomore year. It was her first and last year at our high school. And a different partner in my junior/senior years. She and I share the same birthday. And we have respect and love for each other then and now. We’re still good friends today.

Adults weren’t invested in us, not the school or the school district. One of my teammates played the #1 singles. She told me 20 years later that one of our coaches [not pictured] told her, “you know, you are really good at tennis! Like, good enough to play college level…too bad no one will come out to see you play…” She went on to tell me, “That has haunted me ever since! Why didn’t he fight for me? That could have been an opportunity to change my life. Next, Serena Williams? Probably not, but maybe debt-free from college! All I needed was someone to fight and advocate for me! Thanks, Mona, for validating my feelings after so many years.”

Our tennis courts had wire nets. Our school didn’t invest in the sport outside of allocating a coach. Our tennis coaches spanned from upperclassmen to history and screenprinting teachers. We appreciated them holding us down.

We took playing as a team seriously. We came ready to do whatever we needed to make that a reality. We initiated our team uniforms. As kids, we mobilized ourselves as best we could. We drove each other to games and supported each other when we played. Some people’s parents drove their kids, and others to games. We loved the game and each other on and off the court. And some of us have stayed in contact throughout the years.

“By changing nothing, she changed everything.”

Love always, on and off the court.

We may have been the last team to play. I had no idea. As of October 8, 2022, it was announced that the tennis program will be officially back at John Muir High School after 20 years. Thank you to alumna Veronica Badon.

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Mona Khalil

Name Dipped In Mango | Transformational Leadership Coach & Consultant | Peace Corps, Tesla, LinkedIn Alum | Author of #iwritelettersinmythoughts 🇬🇾🥭🇪🇬