In a Vogue article published on Aug. 9, tennis legend Serena Williams announced that she would officially step away from the game after the 2022 U.S Open.
Serena’s admirers held their breath with tremendous emotion as her masterful career came to a close on Sept. 2 with a loss in the third round of the tournament.
Serena Williams leaves behind a legendary tennis legacy. Since winning her first Grand Slam title in 1999, Williams has won a total of 23 single Grand Slam titles in as many years. She has also won 14 doubles Grand Slam titles with her sister, Venus Williams. No tennis player, man or woman, has won more championships in the Open Era, when Grand Slam tournaments began allowing professional tennis players to participate.
Williams has revolutionized the face of tennis forever. She is regarded as the best player of all time. She is also widely recognized as the greatest female athlete of all time and, by many, the greatest athlete of all time, period.
Williams’ legacy as a tennis player extends far past her impressive athletic feats. In an world that expects women to play and celebrate quietly, Williams showed millions of female athletes that it is okay to be passionate.
Williams has experienced violent and sexist criticism at the hands of the media. Most notably, in 2018, when Williams argued with umpire Carlos Ramos during the U.S. Open over his controversial calls, Williams was heavily mocked and shamed by the media as she was accused of throwing a tantrum, being immature, and making tennis an ugly sport. In response, Williams honorably defended her reaction and explained that she was standing up for what was right, and hoped her actions would pave the way for other female athletes to stand up for themselves on the court.
Since Serena Williams’ debut in tennis at the U.S. Open, adorning iconic beaded braids, she has endured intense racism from the media, the tennis community, and the public. Serena and her sister Venus were accused of match-fixing in 2001 at Indian Wells, and faced racial slurs and explicit threats of bodily harm from the crowd. After Williams’ spirited discussion with Ramos at the 2018 U.S. Open, Williams was, again, a target for racist attacks from the media as Australia’s Herald Sun depicted Williams with an explicitly racist and derogatory caricature. In response, Williams rose above yet again, calling out the media for their role in demonizing her for actions white players are continually excused for.
Williams has refused to be shamed for her body, upsetting societal and tennis norms of what the female body “should” look like and do. Her catsuit at the French Open dominated news cycles for days following its reveal. Despite Williams explaining that it was to prevent blood clots following her pregnancy and traumatic childbirth, the catsuit was banned and Williams was, again, flooded with criticism. Williams has worn an array of iconic outfits on the court, including a denim miniskirt, a studded leather jacket, a Nike blazer, tutu skirts, and, of course, pieces from her collaboration with the late Virgil Abloh’s Off-White.
Serena Williams is looking to the next stage of her life as an evolution and is ready for the future—such as with her business Serena Ventures, a firm that mostly invests in start-ups created by women and people of colour. Williams explained that it is time to change the pattern of men supporting one another and only investing in each other.
We are not done hearing or talking about Serena Williams. How could we be? She has changed the face of sports and tennis forever. Williams defined a new era of athletic greatness and power. Her story, the story of a young Black girl from Compton with unprecedented discipline and determination, has inspired people worldwide. While the virtuosity of the greatest athletes of all time will be dearly missed on the court, her impact off the court will continue to grow.