While [Marzorati] rallies late and fills the latter third with incisive insights about issues of race and gender and about Williams’s life in the public eye, his nonlinear writing often diffuses much of what originally made Williams so compelling ... The early meandering — including bland pages on former pro turned tournament director James Blake and a curious digression on a 1964 Susan Sontag essay — reflects a lack of focus that is distinctly un-Serena like ... For every enlightening scene of Williams as a child prodigy or embroiled in controversy, there is one that veers wide of the target ... Marzorati is writing for the casual fan, concisely explaining the basics of tournament draws and scoring, but that makes his failure to fully put Williams’s professional accomplishments in proper context especially problematic. He takes our knowledge of Williams for granted, revealing crucial parts of her career in a scattershot manner ... In the latter third, Marzorati’s wide-ranging approach blends well with his keen analysis as he covers everything from Williams’s aggressive play to her locker room evolution, from isolation (in no small part because of racism and because of how the Williams sisters’ dominance intimidated other players) to finding close friends to becoming a revered elder. He even effectively draws connections between Williams and both Rihanna and painter Faith Ringgold, writing about topics like the struggle to reshape beauty norms and create a new identity for successful modern Black women ... If only Marzorati had started with a sharply focused narrative of Williams’s rise to greatness and beyond, it would have lent additional strength and power to the rest of his book, and strength and power have always been at the heart of the Serena Williams story.
Mr. Marzorati gives us a book that is so reverential that it teeters on the edge of hagiography ... Mr. Marzorati attempts to explain away her comportment, ascribing a certain political nobility to the acts of rage on the court for which she has become notorious ... It is a shame that Mr. Marzorati can’t detach himself from racial apologias ... This racial reductiveness is a pity, because the story of Ms. Williams is truly uplifting, on a par with that of Condoleezza Rice.
With just enough backstory and supportive interviews, he effectively incorporates relevant history of Williams’ previous Grand Slam tournaments while also examining her roles in challenging cultural norms and fighting for gender equality. Marzorati has an easy-to-read style and reveals the complexity of Williams’ life, not just as an athlete, but also as a celebrity. Williams may be nearing the end of her professional tennis career, but there’s no doubt she will continue to be a force for change and inspiration.