He is a symbol. person. An athlete who has gone far beyond her older sister’s footsteps to dominate a predominantly white sport. He refuses to stop there.
Announcing her plans to retire from tennis, Serena Williams said Tuesday that she will focus her life outside of the sport, instead prioritizing being a mother, fashion designer, venture capitalist and more. He will work out his future as he sees fit.
This is Serena.
He always did it his way, he always did the surgery on his own terms. It made him special, uniquely skilled and beloved—and sometimes criticized. It helped her become one of the greatest athletes to ever grace us—a black woman who rose from the humblest of American beginnings to become a star whose magnetic power transcends the boundaries of sports.
Her announcement on the cover of Vogue magazine on Tuesday that she would retire from tennis after playing at the US Open later this month was befitting of the transcendent figure she has become.
It’s easy to forget that her championship journey, which has included 23 Grand Slam singles titles, surpassing Margaret Court’s record of 24, began with victory at the 1999 US Open. Serena became 17 years old. First black player since Arthur Ashe in 1975 to win a Grand Slam singles title and first black woman to win a Slam since Althea Gibson in 1958.
Williams has become the personification of sporting greatness — and championed the cause of gender and racial equality — for at least two decades.
Along the way, he showed the world the incredible power of breaking boundaries and obliterating norms. The Vogue article, a first-person account, is quite symbolic, even if long overdue, given Williams’ struggles in recent years. He didn’t break the news on Instagram, ESPN or in his postgame press conference. No, Williams does what he wants, when he wants, how he wants.
Of course, he has Anna Wintour, Vogue’s tennis-loving editor, on speed dial. Of course, she would announce her retirement from tennis through one of the world’s top fashion magazines.
Serena Williams has never let tennis define her.
With the news of his retirement, our memories of him come in waves. Oh, how he loved to entertain and put on a show. Isn’t that what attracted us? He had a talent, a hunger, a desire that demanded to be seen. Watching him on Center Court at a Grand Slam for a first-round match or a high-pressure final was the ultimate entertainment. It attracted a large number of people to that point, bringing with it those who would otherwise never watch a tennis match.
These new fans and many seasoned and true tennis fans who have watched the game over the years stood by her when she struggled or got into fights because of how she violated court decorum.
Who can forget the 2018 US Open, when she got into a heated argument with the chair umpire who called first a point and then a full game at the end of her loss to Naomi Osaka? The full spectrum of her tennis career — dozens of heart-pounding wins and sometimes excruciating upsets — is woven into the tapestry that is Serena Williams.
Race can never be discounted when we’re talking about Serena, or Venus Williams, the older sister who started it all. Their dark complexions and physiques contrasted with the tennis world, where only a few shared similar looks.
Ashe and Gibson were good players who were sometimes great. Yannick Noah, the mixed-race son of a black Cameroonian father and a white mother, won the French Open in 1983. Other black players, men and women, made brief but significant marks in tennis.
No one outpaced or dominated the game with the sheer consistency of the Williams sisters.
Serena added a bold defiance to the venture that was confidently predicted by their father, Richard Williams, who, even when Venus first took to the tennis scene, said that this Serena would be the best tennis player in history.
Can you imagine Jimmy Evert, Chris Evert’s father, coach and member of the tennis establishment, saying the same thing about his daughter when she burst onto the scene in the early 1970s?
Nothing Serena Williams has ever been bound by tradition. She challenged the status quo and played with consistent, calming power and touch at the net, an energetic serve and the steely will of a boxer.
Only the elite of the elite can change the game of sport. Consider Stephen Curry’s influence on modern basketball and its fixation with the outside shot. Or Tiger Woods’ revolutionary impact on golf. Add Williams to the mix.
Others played the power play before her — Jennifer Capriati, for example — as did other 3-point shooters before Curry. Williams took the game to new heights. She reached the final of the 1999 US Open against Martina Hingis, who was at the top of the rankings with a refined game and taking advantage of all the angles established by the old guard. After Williams’ power, speed and blindness defeated Hingis 6-3, 7-6, tennis would never be the same.
Think not only of Williams’ game, but also of her style—how she transcended the old norms of fashion and appearance that have been codified in tennis since the Victorian era.
Williams looked perfect, with her hair tied up or beaded or sometimes dyed blonde. On the court, he wore suits of all colors: blue, red, pink, black, tan. Did she wear studs, sequins and boots disguised as tennis shoes – or was it the other way around?
She wore clothes that flowed and swayed, or that proudly displayed her stomach and strong shoulders. She made a full-body cat suit at the 2002 US Open and the talk of Paris at the 2018 French Open.
“I feel like a warrior in it, a warrior princess,” Williams told reporters at the French Open as she referenced the movie “Black Panther.”
“This is my way to become a superhero.”
Of course, her fashion statement may seem superficial and redundant. But not in this context. Black women’s bodies and fashion are often harshly criticized in a way that white women usually don’t. Moreover, tennis is one of those games associated with a tradition of exclusion and uniformity. Williams blew it all.
Here’s another way in which he overstepped the old boundaries. Recall that Williams won the 2017 Australian Open when she was two months pregnant. Then remember that she almost died in childbirth. Then remember her return after giving birth to Alexis Olympias. He would make four more major championship finals.
He lost them all, admittedly, and none were close matches. But Williams was past his prime, with a baby on his side, and the business world imploding. And her return to pregnancy prompted a major rule change in women’s professional tennis — allowing players to enter tournaments based on their pre-pregnancy rankings within three years of giving birth.
Now Williams is looking to end that phase of her life after her last match at the US Open, whether it’s a first-round loss or another loss against all odds: winning it all, at age 40, after barely setting foot on tour. during the past year.
It won’t go away easily. She made that clear when she announced what she called her “evolution,” which includes trying to have another child. Her efforts, she said, conflicted with pursuing a tennis career, a fact she noted that male professional athletes do not have to contend with.
It appears to be the final stretch of his career, but Williams should never be surprised. I wouldn’t be shocked if, perhaps with a second child or more at her side, she makes another appearance on the pro tour, even if it’s just for one stint in the sports spotlight.
If Serena Williams wants to, she’ll do it. We know that much.