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Serena Williams could win her 24th Grand Slam—here's why she didn't spend her first million-dollar check

Serena Williams warming up at the net for her match against Elina Svitolina on Arthur Ashe Stadium during the 2019 U.S. Open Tennis Tournament.
Tim Clayton - Corbis | Corbis Sport | Getty Images

After beating Elina Svitolina in straight sets at the U.S. Open semifinals, tennis star Serena Williams will play in her 10th U.S. Open final on Saturday. The match grants her the chance to take home her 24th Grand Slam singles title, tying Margaret Court for the all-time record.

In addition to the glory, there's also prize money on the line: If Williams clinches the title on Saturday, she'll earn $3.85 million.

But though her career has been lucrative, Williams doesn't blow through cash. In fact, after earning her first million, Williams didn't touch any of the money — she deposited it directly in the bank and walked away.

"I remember, I went through the drive-through to deposit my check, and they were like, 'I think you need to come in for this,'" she recalled in a 2017 interview with Uninterrupted, a media company owned by LeBron James and Maverick Carter.

Williams said that, for her, tennis has never been about getting paid. She's always played for the love of the game. Early in her career, she would forget to collect her paychecks at all.

"When I first turned pro, you had to go pick up your check," she said. "I never, never picked it up, so at the end of the year, the tournament directors would literally hand me the check because I would never go get it."

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That's not to say that Williams doesn't believe in getting what she's rightfully owed. She and her sister Venus have been vocal about promoting gender equality and equal pay, both in the tennis world and outside of it.

After her semifinals victory at Wimbledon in 2016, Williams corrected a reporter who asked what it feels like to be one of the greatest female athletes of all time, saying "I prefer the word 'one of the greatest athletes of all time,'" Sports Illustrated reports.

And in an open letter written for Porter Magazine's Incredible Women of 2016 issue and published in the Guardian, Williams took aim at the gender pay gap: "Too often women are not supported enough or are discouraged from choosing their path," she wrote.

"When the subject of equal pay comes up, it frustrates me because I know firsthand that I, like you, have done the same work and made the same sacrifices as our male counterparts."

When the subject of equal pay comes up, it frustrates me because I know firsthand that I, like you, have done the same work and made the same sacrifices as our male counterparts.
Serena Williams

She went on to say that she embraces what others views as "disadvantages," including her race and gender, and turns them into "fuel for my success."

Gender equality is a cause Williams will never stop advocating for. In a post-match press conference following her loss to Simona Halep at Wimbledon in July, Williams was asked to comment on critics saying she should pause her activism and focus on tennis.

She immediately rejected the idea: "The day I stop fighting for equality and for people that look like you and me will be the day I'm in my grave."

This is an updated version of a previously published article.

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Serena Williams warming up at the net for her match against Elina Svitolina on Arthur Ashe Stadium during the 2019 U.S. Open Tennis Tournament.
Tim Clayton - Corbis | Corbis Sport | Getty Images
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