“She didn’t change who she was—and that changed everything, for all of us.” Those are the final words of Nike’s tribute ad to Serena Williams, released moments after her third-round loss in the US Open on Friday night to Ajla Tomljanović.
The spot, distributed on Nike’s social media channels, comes from Wieden+Kennedy Portland and is voiced by actress Zendaya. It traces the remarkable rise of the girl from Compton, California who became not just an all-time tennis great, but a role model for millions.
“When the world judged her home, she repped her city,” the spot begins, showing childhood footage, before alluding to how she battled critics at certain points of her career, with lines such as: “When the world wanted her to be less powerful, she hit even harder,” and “when her body was too much for some, she made the world envy it.”
Nike in a statement said: “Serena Williams redefined what it means to be a true champion. Her legacy transcends sport and has inspired generations. We look forward to continuing our long-standing partnership with her. And, we thank her for all she has done and will do in the future.”
Nike’s ad followed other tributes from brands including Gatorade and Michelob Ultra that were released before the Open began and ran during tournament play. In a tweet Friday night, Twitter declared Williams “the most Tweeted about female athlete ever.”
Meantime, Michelob Ultra announced it would release a limited number of cans with designs featuring Williams.
Nike’s ad did not run on ESPN TV on Friday night, during or soon after the three-set match, but was quickly posted on social media platforms including Twitter and Instagram following the conclusion of the match.
A Nike representative did not immediately respond to a question about TV airing plans. ESPN moved its Friday night US Open coverage from ESPN2 to ESPN, presumably to seize on stellar ratings Williams has delivered the network this week. ESPN resumed its college football coverage after post-match ceremonies and the US Open switched to ESPN2.