With 23 Grand Slams in her cabinet, Serena Williams does not need an introduction. In the world of tennis, she is one of the greatest athletes to grace the noble sport. Outside the court, she is an icon, playing multiple roles.
From an African American woman who became one of the most decorated athletes in the history of a white-dominated sport to a mother who won multiple grand slams while upbringing a child, Williams has been a role model for upcoming future stars and people of colour, including the likes of compatriot Coco Gauff and Emma Raducanu, the defending US Open winner.
But after 27 years across various courts and grand slams, Serena has decided to call an end to her illustrious career that would possibly not be seen again in a long time. In an interview with Vogue, 40-year-old Serena announced her decision.
But her reason for bidding adieu to tennis is a decision many female athletes across various sports have taken. With her four-year-old daughter Olympia, Serena now wishes to grow her family and look forward to the world outside tennis.
Birth Of A Legend
October 1995 marked the beginning of Williams' legacy when she made her professional debut at the Bell Challenge in Quebec, Canada. The 14-year-old made a wild card entry in the tournament.
The firsts are always special and in Serena's case, it would be the 1999 US Open where she won her first singles Grand Slam after defeating Swiss legend Martina Hingis 6–3, 7–6 (7–4). With the victory 17-year-old scripted history as the first African American woman in the Open Era to win a singles major.
She would end up with a total of six US Open singles titles - 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013, and 2014
A Rain Of Titles
Fast forward to 2002 which turned out as a sensational year for a young Serena's career. She won the coveted Wimbledon after defeating her elder sister Venus Williams. She made history as a 21-year-old, who would go on to win the prestigious tournament a total of seven times - 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015, and 2016.
It was also in July 2002 when Serena featured as the world number one in the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) rankings. She would go on to defend her number one crown for 319 weeks and a maiden French Open title after winning the Roland Garros in 2002. She ended up winning the clay court Grand Slam thrice - 2002, 2013 and 2015
A Global Role Model
Serena made her mark in the Summer Olympics starting in Sydney 2000 where she won the gold medal in women's doubles along with her sister Venus Williams. The duo went on to repeat the feat in Beijing 2008, winning another gold medal for the US. The 2012 London Olympics saw the best of Serena where she won gold medals in singles and doubles events.
The Australian Open was no less where the then world number one showcased her calibre seven times - 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015, and 2017
The Australian Open would go on to be a special Grand Slam for Serena, with the 2017 triumph against Angelique Kerber making her the oldest player to become the world number one in WTA rankings.
But along with her achievements on the court, Serena has been a vocal icon in issues regarding gender, race and motherhood that made her a role model for millions in-and-outside tennis.
Race And Gender
Serena has faced various racist and sexist attacks, but she has been vocal in addressing the issues. She called out tennis institutions for being "underpaid and undervalued" as an African-American woman player during her support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Now, we as Black people have a voice - and technology has been a huge part of that," she quoted in an interview with British Vogue for the November 2020 issue. After suffering racist slurs in the 2001 BNP Paribas Open, Serena did not participate in the tournament for 14 years.
She also pointed out the sexism after being deducted a point at the 2018 US Open for smashing her racquet in frustration.
In a society where dark-coloured skin continues to remain a societal stigma amongst many, Williams has been an inspiration as an African-American icon with her achievements in the court. But outside the court, she has also faced body-shaming throughout her career.
That did not stop Williams as she continued to inspire millions of people of colour and women to be proud of who they are. "It's okay to look strong and to be sexy and to be a woman and to be unbreakable — all those things."
She also unveiled her own collection at the 2016 New York Fashion Week. While the models walked the ramp, Serena recited her self-composed feminist poem, saying, "She turns her disappointment into triumph. Her grief into joy. Her rejections into approvals. If no one believes in her it does not matter. She believes in herself. Nothing stops her. No one can touch her. She is woman".
Motherhood And Retirement Call
During her 2017 Australian Open final against Kerber, Williams was two months pregnant with her daughter Olympia. She triumphed in the final and won her final Grand Slam, adding a total of 23 elusive Grand Slams to her trophy cabinet.
In her interview with Vogue, she mentioned what she went through before calling an end to her 27-year-long career. She said "Alexis and I have been trying to have another child," adding that her daughter's nightly prayer request is to be a big sister to a baby girl.
With Vogue, Serena shared how her daughter wishes to be an elder sister, saying, "Sometimes before bed, she prays to Jehovah to bring her a baby sister". It slowly progressed into a time when she had to make a call between tennis and a family.
Pointing out the gender disparity in sports, Serena said, "I don't think it's fair. If I were a guy, I wouldn't be writing this because I'd be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labour of expanding our family."
Williams reminded of the time when she was pregnant with Olympia during the Australian Open. It's an experience she does not want to repeat as an athlete, stating, "I definitely don't want to be pregnant again as an athlete. I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out."
As she is going to turn 41 in September, Serena does not look at this decision as a retirement but more of a "transition," or an "evolution" of her as a person. With that, she will be bidding farewell perhaps as one of the greatest women athlete in the sporting era, in and outside the field.
Do you always want to share the authentic news with your friends?