Friends, rivals and fans answer 'What Serena means to me'

— -- She has 22 Grand Slam titles and her own clothing line. She has earned more than $80 million in prize money and spent nearly six years as the No. 1 tennis player in the world. So what to get Serena Williams on her 35th birthday? We present perspective, from friends, rivals and fans, all of whom told us what Serena means to them.

"I didn't know anything about tennis, but I definitely knew who Serena Williams was. I remember being out on tour with Destiny's Child. She came to a show and she and I haven't stopped talking since that day. We just clicked. She's always seemed to find a way to make me laugh, let me know when I'm at my greatest, but will also let me know when I'm at my worst, and that's when true friendship is tested. It's how honest one can be with you. How she balances being the No. 1 tennis player in the world and a No. 1 friend baffles me. She is the friend that I prayed and asked God for, whom I also deeply admire. My lifelong friend. Serena Williams."

-- Kelly Rowland, singer

"She's the ultimate competitor, a person that plays the game with so much fire and passion. I have tons of respect for her and what she's been able to do over her career. Arguably one of the best women athletes to ever play any sport, and she does it with grace and passion."

-- Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks quarterback

"I know the numbers and the stats and the records, but I feel her career is the best in the history of the game even without those. I truly believe that. ... I have always admired the way she's handled the ups and downs of her career, and she's always had that champion mentality and the fighting spirit. It's just amazing. To me, she's always been the toughest opponent you can have, but also the most exciting. I've always looked forward to playing against her, because that's when you truly test yourself or your level. It's always exciting to me. In my mind, she's the greatest player ever, regardless of the record."

-- Victoria Azarenka, tennis player

"Serena means strength and beauty to me. She breaks barriers in tennis and for women, with just enough of an edge to keep everyone waiting to see what she will do next. Congrats. You set the championship standard for us all."

-- Monica Abbott, softball pitcher

"She's important to me. She's important to young girls who look like her and me. She's important to women in sports in general. With her, I always use the phrase 'unapologetically fearless.' ... She hasn't backed down from her body shape, from wanting to get paid at a high level like the men, from so many issues. You see this kid who came from Compton and what she's been able to achieve; she's been this icon."

--Swin Cash, basketball star

"I mean, body. ... She is a walking goddess. Amazing. Feminine. Strength. Let's take gender and all of that out for a minute, and just focus on an amazing athlete. I know that I couldn't stand up against her. She's amazing. ... There's a lot that comes with the expectation of who people perceive you to be, then you could just be who you are. She's a very elegant woman."

-- Usher, entertainer

"Serena is the epitome of power, finesse, and she has everything in her arsenal. She can do anything, and when I watch her play, it's her game to lose. To me, I call it big, bold and beautiful. That's what Serena means to me. I think to me, whenever she loses a match, she always gives the competitor their dues, and that's what a great champion is -- they played well and they played better than her that day. It wasn't that they were hitting lucky shots. It was, they played to win."

Kerry Phomtavong, fan from Oakland, California

"Serena means champion to me. I got a chance to see her '30 for 30' and see how she was raised, see all the challenges her and her family had to go through to even get her to this level. It's rewarding, it's like the cherry on top of the cake to the story. Your parents always tell you to work hard, and she's that proof."

-- Fabolous, rapper

"I remember watching her play in her catsuit outfit at the US Open [in 2002]. That was awesome. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this girl rocks!' I hadn't met her at the time yet. And the first time I did meet her, she was so sweet and just gracious, and nice enough to talk to me. Little me! I couldn't believe it. It was just in passing the first time, it really wasn't anything special, but it was just the fact that it was her -- Serena Williams! -- talking to me."

-- Shelby Rogers, tennis player

"Serena means a source of comfort for me. When I was younger, I kind of felt alone because I was one of the couple black swimmers in the sport. Just watching her be so dominant in a sport that she was also a minority in comforted me, and kind of helped me realize that if I wanted to fulfill a dream, I could, and I shouldn't let the fact that I'm a minority in a sport keep me from reaching those goals and dreams."

-- Simone Manuel, swimming gold medalist

"Watching her, it's an inspiration. She's so powerful in everything that she does. When she loses, I feel like I've lost. When she wins, it's like we all win together."

-- Tamika Catchings, basketball star

"Serena is an amazing athlete and an amazing tennis role model for all players. She's one of the greatest players of all time. I think Serena should definitely be praised for all of her accolades on and off the court. She's definitely a role model for all players to look up to. ... It's just herself in general -- her presence on and off the court, what she's brought to women's sports and, selfishly, women's tennis."

-- Coco Vandeweghe, tennis player

"Serena Williams is the ultimate human being. ... She's true and real, she owns who she is. She believes in the struggle and is mentally tough. To me ... being mentally tough, that is the most inspirational thing you can have -- is to trust and believe in yourself. That you can succeed and overcome all things -- even when the going gets tough. Being mentally tough, especially as a fitness professional, it's not about your body, it's not about a size, but rather a mentality. If you want to achieve any goal, it starts from the neck up. And Serena definitely leads the charge as being the greatest athlete of all time because she leads with her mind, but possesses the power."

-- Shaun T, celebrity fitness trainer

"Probably the world. We love each other. We have so much fun together and we enjoy each other, so I think that has made our life meaningful."

-- Venus Williams, sister