Serena Williams has announced that she will be evolving into a new phase of her life after playing the 2022 US Open, likely her last. I will be rooting for her like most everyone. Whether she wins or not, Serena will go down as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) in women’s tennis.
I wasn’t a fan of Serena Williams when she arrived at the scene some 25 years ago. I was rooting for her older sister Venus who moved about the court like a gazelle and who had already started winning majors. Everything about Serena was and is different. Her sibling rivalry with Venus on the world stage was unlike anything tennis or for that matter any other sport had seen. Tennis fans including me could sense that the sibling rivalry was going to be one sided, when Serena attained her first “Serena-slam” by winning four consecutive majors in 2002–03, beating her sister each one of those four times in the final. She won the Serena-slam again in 2014–15.
For those who are not tennis fans, here’s a brief comparison of Serena with her historical peers. Serena has won 23 grand slam events or majors, one shy of the women’s record of 24 by Australian Margaret Court whose 11 wins came in the Open Era. Court was the first woman to win a grand slam in the Open Era. Court’s last major came nearly 50 years ago at the US Open in 1973. For the next 15 years, Americans Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova dominated women’s tennis and won 18 majors each. Steffi Graf of Germany followed them and won 22 majors. She holds the only golden slam in tennis of winning all four majors and the Olympic gold in 1988. Serena is the only one with a career golden slam in singles and doubles.
Serena’s record of 23 majors needs to be understood in context. Like most sports, tennis has become more competitive decade after decade, and exceptionally so in the 2000s when Serena has dominated. In recent times, behind Serena’s 23, the next best record for a woman is just 7 majors (by Venus)! This outdistancing of her contemporaries is one reason why few would disagree that Serena is the GOAT in women’s tennis. That the Williams sisters and the world had known only one Black woman, Althea Gibson, to win majors in the fifties, makes their record accomplishments even more remarkable.
The unparalleled athleticism, power, and skills Serena has showed in her shots, when combined with the determination, finesse, poise, and intellect that characterize all great players, have made her exceptional. She has taken women’s tennis and women’s sports, in general, to another level, and has made it a must watch. The US Open tennis final in 2001 between Serena and Venus was the first ever women’s final to be broadcast on primetime television in America.
Serena is more than a tennis icon. The artistry and elegance of her strokes do not end on the tennis court. She is a fashion designer with a full life outside grinding tennis. She is fluent in French, and is at ease on or off the red clay in Paris. She is a mom. She was eight weeks pregnant when she beat Venus and won her last major in Australia in 2017. She has reached the final of a major four times as a mom. At this Open, she is looking for a win. Go Serena!
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