Serena Williams will retire from tennis the way she played – on her own terms

She is a symbol. Character. An athlete who went far beyond the footsteps of her pioneering sister and came to lead a cloistered, predominantly white sport. She refuses to stop there.

Announcing her intention to retire from tennis, Serena Williams said on Tuesday that she would focus her life far beyond sport, instead focusing on being a mother, fashion designer, venture capitalist and much more. Moreover. She will design her future as she sees fit.

It’s oh-so-Serena.

She always did it her way, always on her own terms. It made her special, uniquely qualified and loved – and sometimes drew criticism. It helped her become one of the greatest athletes to ever grace us – a black woman who rose from humble beginnings in America to a star whose magnetic attraction goes far beyond the boundaries of sport.

His announcement, in a Vogue magazine cover released on Tuesday that she would be quitting tennis after playing the US Open later this month was fitting for the transcendent figure she has become.

It’s easy to forget that his championship run, which included 23 Grand Slam singles titles, just shy of Margaret Court’s record of 24, began with victory at the US Open in 1999. At 17 years, Serena became the first black player since Arthur Ashe in 1975 to win a Grand Slam singles title and the first black woman to emerge victorious at a Slam since Althea Gibson in 1958.

Williams became the personification of athletic greatness and – for at least two decades – championed aspirations for gender equality and racial equity.

Along the way, she showed the world the incredible power to break down boundaries and erase norms. The Vogue article, a first-person account, seems symbolically telling, though long overdue, given Williams’ struggles in competition in recent years. She did not announce the news on her Instagram account, on ESPN or at a post-match press conference. No, Williams does what she wants, when she wants, how she wants.

Of course, she has Anna Wintour, Vogue’s tennis-loving editor, on speed dial. Of course, she would announce that she is taking a break from tennis through one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world.

Serena Williams has never let tennis define her.

With the announcement of the retirement, our memories of her follow one another. Oh, how she loved to entertain and put on a show. Isn’t that what attracted us? She had a talent, a hunger, a desire that demanded to be seen. Watching her walk down Grand Slam center court for a first-round match or final under pressure was entertainment at its best. She attracted multitudes in the moment, bringing with her those who would otherwise never watch a tennis match.

These new fans, and many proven tennis fans who had watched the game for years, stood behind her when she struggled or got wrapped up in arguments over how fierce she sometimes drilled. standards of decorum on the pitch.

Who can forget the US Open 2018, when she violently clashed with the chair umpire who first scored her a point, then an entire game near the end of a loss to Naomi Osaka? The full spectrum of her tennis career – the dozens of thrilling wins and the sometimes torturous upsets – is woven into the tapestry that is Serena Williams.

Race can never be ignored when talking about Serena or Venus Williams, the older sister who started it all. Their blackness and physical stature, thrown into a tennis world where only a few shared a similar look, looked breathtaking.

Ashe and Gibson were good players who were great at times. Yannick Noah, the mixed-race son of a black Cameroonian father and a white mother, won the French Open in 1983. A handful of other black players, men and women, made short but important marks on tennis .

No one has dominated the game or dominated it with the consistency of the Williams sisters.

Serena added a daring challenge to the company as predicted with certainty by their father, Richard Williams, who even when Venus was first splashing onto the tennis scene said it would be Serena who would become the best. in the history of tennis.

Can you imagine Jimmy Evert, father of Chris Evert, coach and member of the tennis establishment, saying the same about his daughter when she burst onto the scene in the early 1970s?

Nothing Serena Williams has ever done has been confined by tradition. She challenged the status quo and played with a mix of consistent, powerful power and touch at net, energized by a serve for the ages and a boxer’s steely will.

Only the elite of the elite can change the way their sport is played. Consider Stephen Curry’s influence on modern basketball and his fixation on outside shooting. Or Tiger Woods’ revolutionary impact on golf. Add Williams to the mix.

Others played a power play before her — Jennifer Capriati, for example — just as there were other 3-point shooters before Curry. Williams took the game to new heights. She entered that 1999 US Open final against Martina Hingis, who had catapulted herself to the top of the standings by playing with finesse and exploiting every angle as prescribed by the old guard. After Williams’ power, speed and grit dispatched Hingis, 6-3, 7-6, tennis would never be the same.

Think not only of Williams’ game, but also of her style – how she exceeded the old standards of fashion and appearance codified in tennis since the Victorian era.

Williams appeared as herself, her hair braided or beaded or occasionally colored blonde. On the field, she wore outfits of all colors: blue, red, pink, black, beige, etc. She donned studs, sequins and boots disguised as tennis shoes – or was it the other way around?

She wore clothes that floated and swayed, or proudly showed off her strong stomach and shoulders. She made the full catsuit a thing at the 2002 US Open and the Paris talk at the 2018 French Open.

“I feel like a warrior, a warrior princess,” Williams told reporters at Roland Garros, referring to the movie “Black Panther.”

“It’s kind of my way of being a superhero.”

Of course, noting her fashion may seem superficial and superfluous. But not in this context. Black women’s bodies and fashion are often harshly criticized in ways that white women generally don’t experience. Moreover, tennis is one of those games linked by a tradition of exclusion and uniformity. Williams blew it all up.

Here’s another way she jumped beyond the old boundaries. Recall that Williams won the 2017 Australian Open when she was two months pregnant. So remember she almost died in labor. Then let’s remember her big comeback after giving birth to Alexis Olympia. She would make four more major championship finals.

She lost them all, it’s true, and none were very close. But Williams had been through his best years, with a child by his side and the business world calling to him. And her return from pregnancy helped lead to a major rule change in women’s professional tennis – allowing players to participate in tournaments based on their pre-pregnancy ranking up to three years after giving birth.

Now, Williams plans to end that phase of her life after her last match at the US Open, whether it’s a first-round loss or another outcome against all odds: winning it all, at 40 years old, after having barely circumnavigated the circuit. over the past year.

She won’t go away easily. She made that clear by announcing what she called her “evolution,” which will include trying for another child. Her attempts, she said, were at odds with pursuing her tennis career, a fact she noted male professional athletes don’t have to contend with.

It looks like the last step in his career, but we should never be surprised by Williams. I wouldn’t be shocked if perhaps with a second child or more in tow, she reappeared on the pro tour, even for just one more bite of the sporting spotlight.

If Serena Williams wants it, she will. This we know.

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