If this US Open marks the finale of Serena Williams’ groundbreaking career, there’s no better place for her to say goodbye than at Flushing Meadows, where she announced in 1999 that she was unlike anyone women’s tennis had ever seen would have.
Not quite 18, with a hint of fierceness and white pearls in her braided hair, she brought a strong mix of power and aggressiveness to the court. It wasn’t that she was serving big, she was serving to win the point, not to set up a rally. She hit hard and on purpose.
Williams beat leader Martina Hingis in the final to win the first of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles. At her peak, she was invincible, surpassing her idol, older sister Venus. Rising from the ragged courts of Compton to the top of the posh tennis world, they opened doors to a sport hostile to the few black players who preceded them. They advocated equal pay for women and rewrote the unofficial rules.
“All there is to say about Serena is that she inducted herself into the pantheon of GOATs of GOATs,” said John McEnroe, referring to athletes who have been judged as the greatest of all time in their sport.
“She’s up there with Billie Jean King. Muhammad Ali. Michael Jordan. Tom Brady. There is Serena. She has become like an icon of icons.”
The Open begins on Monday with all eyes on Serena, who recently told Vogue magazine that she is “evolving away from tennis” as she nears her 41st birthday. A six-time champion in New York, she meets 80th-placed Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday night. Additionally, the Williams sisters will reunite for the first time in more than four years after accepting a wildcard double entry.
Williams, who ended a year-long injury layoff with a first-round loss at Wimbledon, is 1-3 this year and 410th in the world. She has said she wants another child but doesn’t want to play while pregnant like she did when she won the Australian Open, her last Slam singles title, in 2017. Their daughter Alexis Olympia is almost 5.
Williams may not match or surpass Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, but that’s almost irrelevant given Williams’ immeasurable impact on the court and beyond.
“She revolutionized tennis,” said retired star Chris Evert, now an ESPN commentator. “I feel like she really inspired Women of Color because we’ve seen a lot more women of color playing the game and I think she’s changed the way women compete to the extent that it’s okay to be wild and passionate and vocal out there, emotionally out there on the pitch, and still be a woman, don’t let it stop you from being a woman.
“Sometimes as a woman, a black woman in the world, you settle for less. I feel like Serena taught me that she never settles for less because she watched her.”
– Coco Gauff, on the impact Serena Williams has had on her life and tennis career
Whether William’s departure will be long or short is hard to say. She could defeat Kovinic and frolic through the end of the draw. Her lack of match sharpness could see her stumbling against Kovinic or likely second-round opponent Anett Konteveit, No. 2 seed.
Without the dominance of Venus, 42, or Serena, women’s tennis has become unpredictable. World No. 1 Ash Barty surprisingly retired after winning the Australian Open. Emma Raducanu has struggled since her surprise US Open win last year and has had a challenging start against Alize Cornet. Naomi Osaka, who has won two of her four Slam singles titles at the US Open, has struggled with mental health issues and injuries and is ranked No. 44 in the world. Iga Swiatek succeeded Barty as No. 1 and consolidated that with a 37-game win streak, but she went 2-2 in two Hardcourt Open Warmup events.
Floridian Coco Gauff, 18, has as good a chance as anyone of winning at Flushing Meadows. In a pre-tournament interview, she said she learned more than just tactics from Williams.
“Sometimes as a woman, a black woman in the world, you settle for less. I feel like Serena taught me that she never settled for less because she was watching her,” said Gauff, who is seeded at No. 12.
Venus, who has won Wimbledon five times and the US Open twice, is winless this year and is ranked 1,445. She hasn’t said if retirement is also on her radar, but it may not be far off. As a wild card participant, she will face Alison Van Uytvanck on Tuesday.
Early losses in New York would not diminish the Williams sisters’ influence.
“Serena fought for us. She showed all WTA players, even ATP players, a good way to achieve their own goals, voice their thoughts and keep fighting for what they believe in,” said Leylah Fernandez, 2021 US Open runner-up. about the women and pro tours for men. “I think it’s a great opportunity to leave the sport. She’s just a legend.”
The men’s competition is particularly noteworthy for those who will not be playing.
Roger Federer (20 Slam singles titles) is recovering from knee surgery. Alexander Zverev, who lost the final to Daniil Medvedev last year, has sustained an ankle injury. Novak Djokovic (21 Slams) was not allowed to enter the United States as a foreigner who was not vaccinated against the corona virus. He was also banned from entering Australia for the Australian Open in January. Before Djokovic retired on Thursday, McEnroe called his suspension “a joke” but Djokovic’s refusal to get vaccinated could cost him the Slam singles record.
Medvedev, number 1 seed, will be back. So does Rafael Nadal, who is trying to extend his men’s record of 22 Slam singles titles. Nadal lost the first two sets at the Australian Open to Medvedev but came back with a stunning win; He then went on to beat Djokovic and Casper Ruud to win his record-breaking 14th straight French Open title, but withdrew before his Wimbledon semifinals due to a abdominal tear. “We can never write him off,” McEnroe said of Nadal, who at 36 is still playing everything.
Evert recalled that tennis was doomed when the rockstar-like Bjorn Borg retired in 1981, but new personalities and stars emerged to delight fans. The Williams sisters will be pursued but not replaced. Don’t be sad when they leave. Be glad you left tennis better than you found it.
“Serena’s timing is perfect,” Evert said. “I think that’s a great way to go out if she’s going out.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-08-29/serena-williams-final-grand-slam-career-us-open Serena Williams begins final U.S. Open with peerless legacy