Serena Williams, the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, a sporting icon, and one of the greatest tennis players of all time, is set to retire.
It’s difficult to imagine tennis without the American legend, who has won everything there is to win over the course of her 27-year career.
From a purely sporting standpoint, Williams will be remembered as one of the game’s greatest competitors; an athlete with the purest serve in women’s tennis and an unwavering desire to win.
She will also be remembered for speaking out against racism, advocating for gender equality and equal prize money, and sharing her experiences as a black woman in the healthcare system.
First Grand Slam win – US Open 1999
Williams won her first Grand Slam singles title in New York when she was only 17 years old. In the quarter-finals, she defeated world number four Monica Seles, then second-ranked Lindsey Davenport before facing world number one Martina Hingis in the final.
Williams won in straight sets to become the first African-American woman to win a singles major in the Open Era. Just for good measure, she and Venus won the doubles title the following weekend.
Addressing racism – Indian Wells 2001
Both Williams sisters have spoken out about the racism they encountered during their careers in a traditionally white sport, as well as the difficulties their father, Richard, faced.
In 2001, the sisters were scheduled to meet in the semi-finals of Indian Wells, one of the most important events outside of the Grand Slams. However, when Venus withdrew due to injury, Richard and the sisters were accused of match-fixing.
Serena was then booed as she entered the final to face Kim Clijsters, and both Richard and Venus claimed they were racially abused by the crowd.
Completing the ‘Serena Slam’ – Australian Open 2003
Williams arrived in Melbourne on the heels of an incredible Grand Slam run, having won every major tournament since the 2002 French Open. Only the Australian Open trophy was missing from her collection.
To reach the final in Melbourne, she had to save two match points and overcome a 5-1 third set deficit against Kim Clijsters in the semi-finals. She then defeated Venus for her fourth major singles title in a row. It also gave Williams a career Grand Slam and a non-calendar year Grand Slam at the age of 22.
Double triumph at SW19 – Wimbledon 2012 & London Olympics
Williams’ victories on the Wimbledon grass marked the beginning of a resurgent few years in which she won nine more major singles titles.
She won Olympic singles gold after following up her Wimbledon title run with a dominant performance. Williams defeated Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 in 62 minutes on the same court where Sharapova had previously beaten her. It was Sharapova’s heaviest defeat against Williams in 15 years, with the American winning 22 of their 24 meetings.
Another ‘Serena Slam’ before US Open heartbreak – 2015
Williams began and ended the 2015 season as world number one, winning the Australian Open, Roland Garros, and Wimbledon to add to her US Open title from 2014.
In the semi-finals of the calendar Grand Slam in New York, she faced Italy’s Roberta Vinci, whom she had beaten four times in a row. She recovered from losing the first set and led 2-0 in the decider before the unseeded Italian stunned Williams and the crowd. Williams later described the loss as “heartbreaking.”
Winning number 23 at eight weeks pregnant – 2017 Australian Open
Williams found out she was expecting her first child just before the start of the year’s first Grand Slam. She won her eighth Australian Open title while eight weeks pregnant, passing Steffi Graf on the all-time list of Open Era major winners, with only Margaret Court ahead of her.
She didn’t drop a set in Melbourne, and she returned to the top of the world rankings before going on maternity leave, proving her dominance.
The ‘superhero catsuit’ – French Open 2018
Catsuit anyone? For all the moms out there who had a tough recovery from pregnancy—here you go. If I can do it, so can you. Love you all!! pic.twitter.com/xXb3BKDGNF
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) May 29, 2018
Williams has spoken extensively about the difficulties that black women in the United States face in healthcare, particularly complications during pregnancy or childbirth. Serena Williams nearly died after giving birth to Olympia due to an embolism.
She returned to the Grand Slams at Roland Garros eight months after giving birth, wearing a black catsuit that not only made her feel like “a queen from Wakanda,” but also helped her cope with blood clots. Two months later, she reached the Wimbledon final, where she was defeated by Angelique Kerber.
The controversy in New York – US Open 2018
Serena Williams stated several times that breaking Court’s record was “the only reason” she continued to play after the birth of her daughter, and it seemed fitting that she could do so on her home court after reaching the US Open final.
Williams was the overwhelming favorite against first-time finalist Naomi Osaka. Williams’ outburst at umpire Carlos Ramos, in which she called him a liar and thief after being docked three points, divided opinion and resulted in a hostile New York crowd. Although Osaka won, both players were in tears by the end.
The long-awaited return – Wimbledon 2022
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With rumors of her retirement circulating, it seemed cruel that the last time Wimbledon saw the American great was when she limped off in tears in the first round in 2021 after injuring her ankle.
Her unexpected decision to compete in singles as a wildcard resulted in a late-night thriller against France’s Harmony Tan. Williams wowed the crowd and displayed all of her competitiveness before succumbing in three sets.
She stood and twirled one last time on the stage that had brought her and the fans so much joy over the years as she left to a standing ovation. Serena will, simply put, never be replaced.