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Serena Williams accepts a new challenge – in Silicon Valley

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SAN FRANCISCO — Tennis star Serena Williams has 39 Grand Slam titles, four Olympic medals, major endorsement deals and her own line of clothing and accessories. Now she is embarking on a new mission: She says wants to help tech companies diversify their workforces and solve one of the industry’s most vexing problems.

Williams, 35, will get her chance as she joins a Silicon Valley boardroom for the first time. Online poll-taking service SurveyMonkey announced Williams’ appointment to its board on Wednesday, along with Intuit CEO Brad Smith.

“I feel like diversity is something I speak to,” Williams said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Change is always happening, change is always building. What is important to me is to be at the forefront of the change and to make it easier for the next person that comes behind me.”

Williams didn’t offer specifics about her goals as a corporate director, implying that her very presence can help push the company – and, by extension, the industry as a whole – in a more diverse direction.

Individual board members don’t usually exert great influence over the companies they oversee, although they are often compensated handsomely in cash and stock for their part-time work. SurveyMonkey, a private company, didn’t say how much Williams will be compensated.

VALLEY DIVERSITY

Silicon Valley’s lack of diversity has become a recurring source of embarrassment in a region that has long sought to position itself as an egalitarian place that doesn’t favor one gender or ethnic race over another.

Yet that philosophy hasn’t been reflected in high-tech workforces, despite the efforts of companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook to fix the problem. Not much progress has been made since diversity became a hot-button topic in Silicon Valley three years ago.

Williams has been hanging around Silicon Valley more frequently now that she is engaged to high-tech entrepreneur, Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of the online forum Reddit. Like many other African-Americans, she says she’s disappointed that the vast majority of high-paying technology jobs are filled by white and Asian men.

At SurveyMonkey, which employs about 650 workers, only 27 percent of technology jobs are filled by women. Just 14 percent of its total payroll consists of African-Americans, Latinos or people identifying themselves with at least two races, according to numbers the company provided to the AP.

Williams’ appointment is part of the solution, according to SurveyMonkey CEO Zander Lurie. “My focus is to bring in change agents around the table who can open our eyes,” he said.

STEPPING STONE

Racism is something Williams confronted and overcame at an early age when she began playing a predominantly white sport. She grew up to become the top-ranked female tennis player in the world.

Diversifying Silicon Valley isn’t the only item on Williams’ agenda. Like a lot of rich athletes, she is interested in becoming more involved in the business opportunities amid the high-tech boom in Silicon Valley. She says she is already exploring other opportunities in the area, but isn’t ready to provide further details yet.

Her connection to SurveyMonkey came through her friendship with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer and another member of SurveyMonkey’s board. Sandberg’s late husband, Dave Goldberg, was SurveyMonkey’s CEO before he died in 2015 while the couple was vacationing in Mexico.

“I have been really interested in getting involved in Silicon Valley for years, so I have been kind of in the wading waters,” Williams said. “Now, I am jumping into the deep end of the pool. When I do something, I go all out.”

Muguruza upsets No. 1 Pliskova, reaches Cincinnati final

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MASON, Ohio — Garbine Muguruza reached her first Western & Southern Open final with a 6-3, 6-2 upset of defending champion Karolina Pliskova on Saturday.

The Wimbledon champion will meet on Sunday the winner of the later semifinal between Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens.

The final will be the first on American soil for Muguruza, who lost to Pliskova in last year’s W&S semifinals. The Spaniard had lost six straight matches against Pliskova since winning their first in 2013.

Muguruza clinched the win when the top-ranked Pliskova sailed a forehand long on the fifth match point. Pliskova, who played part of one match and all of another on Friday after rain forced postponements on Thursday, had 28 unforced errors to Muguruza’s 13.

Muguruza was coming off playing the tournament’s longest match, a 2-hour, 45-minute three-set win over Svetlana Kuznetsova on Friday. That followed a 2-hour, 18-minute win over Madison Keys on Thursday, when she fought off three match points.

Muguruza took charge early on Saturday, breaking Pliskova in the first and last games of the first set.

She gained a second-set edge with a backhand winner on break point for a 4-2 lead before closing it out in 1 hour, 19 minutes.

Surprise 2009 US Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin retires

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Melanie Oudin is retiring from professional tennis, eight years after her captivating run to the U.S. Open quarterfinals as a teenager.

The 25-year-old American announced her decision in a series of posts on Twitter on Friday.

“Tennis has given me so much and I will always be grateful,” Oudin wrote. “It wasn’t exactly the entire career I had dreamed of, but in life things don’t always go as planned.”

Oudin has dealt with a series of health problems in recent years. Those included a diagnosis of rhabdomyolysis (rab-doe-my-OL-uh-sis), a muscle-damaging condition which may be caused by intense exertion, in 2013, and a procedure to address occasional episodes of an accelerated heartbeat the following year.

She has not played a professional match since entering lower-level ITF tournaments last season.

“Unfortunately, since the end of 2012, I have been struck with numerous health issues and injuries. I would work so hard to come back after being out, and then something else would happen,” Oudin wrote. “It has definitely taken a toll on me mentally and physically over the last five years or so.”

Oudin has been ranked as high as 31st but is now outside the top 400.

She won one WTA singles title, on grass at Birmingham, England, in 2012, and teamed with Jack Sock to win the U.S. Open mixed doubles championship in 2011. Oudin also was a member of the U.S. Fed Cup team.

At the 2009 U.S. Open, as an unseeded and unknown 17-year-old from Marietta, Georgia, the 70th-ranked Oudin pulled off a series of stunning results, upsetting four higher-ranked women – including Maria Sharapova and Beijing Olympic gold medalist Elena Dementieva – to become the youngest quarterfinalist at Flushing Meadows since Serena Williams in 1999.

The vivacious teen whose shoes were stamped with “BELIEVE” during those magical, memorable two weeks in New York closed her three-tweet message to fans and others Friday with that very same word, in all capital letters for emphasis.

“I will definitely miss competing. … I am very proud of how I always competed with lots of heart throughout my whole career,” she wrote.

“I am sad to leave the sport I know and love,” Oudin said, “but I am very optimistic about what the future holds for me.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis