Thank You, Serena

The impact she has had on the game of tennis will never be forgotten, and she’ll always be remembered as the GOAT.

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By Julia Shen

Twenty-three Grand Slam singles titles, 16 doubles titles, and four Olympic gold medals. The undisputed GOAT of women’s tennis finished her dominant career with an astonishing total of 98 titles in both singles and doubles.

After a devastating ankle injury in the first round of 2021’s Wimbledon, Serena Williams was forced to forfeit her match. Many fans questioned the future of the then 39-year-old’s professional career. Nonetheless, after a year-long break nursing her torn hamstring, Serena Williams finally made her return to professional tennis in 2022. A shaky return match in Wimbledon resulted in a first-round exit, and it became evident that the time away from tennis, coupled with her age, was greatly impacting her movement and shots. Fans figured that it wouldn’t be long until she announced her retirement.

Serena Williams announced her “farewell” to tennis in a Vogue magazine article titled “Serena Williams Says Farewell to Tennis On Her Own Terms—And In Her Own Words” on August 9. Citing her desire to focus on her family and grow her investment company, Serena Williams was ready to “evolve” away from tennis. The news was immediately followed by a flood of support and love for Serena Williams, along with excitement for the upcoming US Open, her last tournament. Fans rushed to buy tickets for the matches in an attempt to catch the 23-time Grand Slam winner’s possible final match in person.

With a sold-out Arthur Ashe Stadium and a record-breaking opening day, 1.7 million viewers on ESPN were ready to watch Serena Williams in action for the last time. She was slated to face 27-year-old Danka Kovinić, who had been struggling ever since her loss at Roland-Garros to the world’s number one, Iga Świątek.

Though Serena Williams’s serve appeared to be shaky in the first set, she started with an early break and a 2-0 lead. However, Kovinić responded with two breaks of her own, snatching the lead back. Down 3-2, advantage Kovinić, Serena Williams hit a backhand return that nicked the outside corner of the court and left Kovinić and the crowd in absolute disbelief. The shot turned the tide of the match, and Serena Williams proceeded to win the next three games, claiming the set 6-3. The second set was no different. Serena Williams, with her electric serves and best court coverage and movement since returning to tennis, defeated Kovinić in straight sets, both ending in scores of 6-3.

Immediately after the match, a tribute video narrated by Oprah Winfrey played, followed by a stadium-wide acclamation, holding up different colored cards that spelled out “We Love Serena.” However, this game wasn’t the end of Serena Williams’s US Open, as she was now slated to play a much tougher match against the number two seed, Anett Kontaveit, in the second round. The upset seemed unlikely, but possible.

In front of another sold-out crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Serena Williams and Kontaveit were neck-and-neck for the entirety of the first set, leading up to a tiebreak. Serena Williams pulled away with a two-point lead, and she followed it with an ace and a fist pump that left the crowd ecstatic, claiming the tiebreak 7-4. Kontaveit responded by dominating a quick second set with her serves and winners. With the match on the line, the third set started with Serena Williams getting an early break, thanks to two strong returns prompting errors from Kontaveit. A crucial point at 4-2, advantage Serena Williams, resulted in an impressive swinging volley by Serena Williams, bringing her to a lead of 5-2 and one game away from winning the match. Finally, a winner off Kontaveit’s serve concluded the upset, leaving the stadium the loudest it had been all night.

During the post-match interview, Serena Williams was asked about her success by a US Open reporter. “I’m a pretty good player,” Serena Williams said. “This is what I do best. I love a challenge. I love rising up to a challenge.” When asked if she was surprised about her success, she simply replied. “I’m just Serena,” she said. After eliminating the number two seed in the tournament, it seemed as if the six-time US Open winner had a chance of making a deep run in her farewell tournament.

Her next match was against Ajla Tomljanović, who was ranked 46th in the world. Serena Williams took an early lead but struggled to close out the set, leading to Tomljanović winning four games in a row to win the set. Serena Williams did not go down without a fight and responded by claiming the second set in a tiebreak. However, the third set had little to write, as Tomljanović dominated to take a 5-1 lead. With Tomljanović serving for the match, she closed out her victory in the 15-minute final game. The grueling match, which clocked in at just over three hours long, ended with scores of 7-5, 6-7, and 6-1. Serena Williams’s final match became ESPN’s most viewed tennis match in its history of broadcasting tennis, with 4.8 million viewers. This record-shattering number alone shows the impact Serena Williams has on people all around the world.

Serena Williams’s final match sparked a lot of emotion throughout the media world and from tennis fans and players alike. Her career had, has, and will continue to inspire countless tennis fans and players, and her final US Open run was a prime example of her incomparable influence. Świątek, the first-ranked 21-year-old widely regarded as the future of women’s tennis, says that she is still starstruck by Serena Williams. “When I look at her, I suddenly kind of forget that I’m here as the world number one. I see [Serena Williams], and it’s, ‘Wow, Serena,’ you know? And I feel like I’m a kid from kindergarten just looking at her,” Świątek said.

Serena Williams’s success in tennis has also paved the way for people of color to thrive in a sport historically dominated by white people. Eighteen-year-old Coco Gauff, who recently rose to stardom this year as the world number one in women’s doubles and number eight in singles, was also inspired by Serena Williams. She credits Serena Williams for her success and for allowing her to realize that it is possible for a Black woman to make a name for herself in the sport of tennis. “Growing up, I never thought that I was different because the number one player in the world was somebody who looked like me,” Gauff said. “Sometimes being a woman, a Black woman in the world, you settle for less. I feel like [Serena Williams] taught me that, from watching her, she never settled for less.”

On the men’s side of tennis, 24-year-old Frances Tiafoe, who became the first African-American semifinalist in the US Open since 1972, noted the impact that Serena Williams has had on not only himself, but also the Black community. “You’re in Black neighborhoods and Black culture, every time I say I’m playing tennis, they’re like, ‘Oh, you do that Venus and Serena thing,’” Tiafoe said. “I had a similar come-up, and Serena Williams and Venus Williams are always going to be major GOATs to me.” He even went as far as to say that “Serena Williams and Venus Williams [are] why Frances Tiafoe is even a name.”

Serena Williams finished her career with a total of 23 Grand Slam titles, the most in men’s and women’s history. Although a final US Open victory would have made for a storybook ending, this conclusion is certainly not far from one. Her comeback to tennis at 40 years of age after an injury has been a true showcase of her hard work, perseverance, and passion, and her final US Open run has capped off one of the best careers in sports history. She has inspired tennis players, fans, and the public alike to believe in their dreams and strive to become the best version of themselves on and off the court. The impact she has had on the game of tennis will never be forgotten, and she’ll always be remembered as the GOAT.

Thank you, Serena Williams.