As Serena Williams said goodbye to Tennis, the G.O.A.T was showered with love and respect

This generation throws around the word greatness far too often, and rarely ever in a deserving manner.

After all true greatness takes premier skill, matched with an unparalleled desire to win, all while withstanding Father Time.

Or simply put, Serena Williams.

Premier talent? Ranked number 1 player in the world for 319 weeks with 186 of those being consecutive weeks.

Desire to win? Just watch her fight back from the jaws of defeat countless times.

Longevity? At the time of her first U.S Open match, LeBron James hadn’t yet played high school basketball. Tom Brady hadn’t yet thrown a TD in college. Tim Duncan was Rookie of the Year.

Williams’ first professional match came on Oct. 28, 1995, when she was 14, a loss to a teenager named Annie Miller. She was Venus Williams’ younger sister then. That would soon change.

She became the most devastating force in the history of women’s tennis, the inspiration for a generation and a model for a new type of champion, and on Friday night, at the U.S. Open — 9,806 days later — she played what could be her last, the final, glorious moments of a career that netted 23 Grand Slam singles titles.

It wasn’t the mic-drop, record-equalling 24th major singles title ending she had dreamed of, but this week has still been a thrilling New York goodbye, and her departure will be remembered as one of the most significant dates in tennis history. The day that Williams, after a quarter of a century of domination, said farewell to tennis, a sport she has helped to define.

Many followers of tennis do not know a world in which Williams isn’t a dominant figure in the game. She played her first qualifier for a professional tournament in 1995, her first main-draw match two years later, and won her first grand slam as a 17-year-old at the US Open in 1999.

Along with Venus, she changed the sport of tennis forever. Williams has not ruled out ever playing again, but as she sat inside Interview Room 1 at Ashe late Friday, she emphasized again what she has said before. She’s ready to build her family, to leave tennis in the past.

“It takes a lot of work to get here,” she said, fighting back more tears. “Clearly, I’m still capable. It takes a lot more than that. I’m ready to be a mom, explore a different version of Serena.”

“It’s been really hard on her — my career,” Williams said of her daughter. “So it will be nice just to do that and spend some time with her — do things that I never really have done or had an opportunity to do.”

Williams, 40, sounded happy, content. If Friday night was indeed her last U.S. Open, her last moment as a professional tennis player, she showed everyone the traits that made her the greatest women’s player ever.

The crowd, hoping for one more signature Serena moment, let out another deafening roar. At times, the crowd inside Arthur Ashe Stadium was so loud and boisterous that Williams paused while serving to let the noise fade.

Tomljanovic said she still felt like the villain. She understood the moment. She had grown up dreaming of playing the Williams sisters.

“I mean, it’s Serena’s moment,” Tomljanovic said. Even when she finally won, Tomljanovic said she felt conflicted, which came through in a gracious post-match interview. “When it ended,” she said, “it almost didn’t feel right.”

As for Serena, I think she and her fans were fully able to understand the moment, taking it in with each serve and rally.

Nobody had expected much out of her in this U.S. Open. It was simply one last time to send off the GOAT with thunderous applauses and roses at her feet.

The injuries had mounted in recent years. She hadn’t won a Grand Slam title since the 2017 Australian Open. She’d lost four Slam finals since then, and the last had come here at the U.S. Open in 2019.

When Williams reunited with Venus in the doubles draw, they lost in the first round. So the planned tributes and ceremonies had started from the opening match, just in case. Oprah. Beyoncé. Tiger Woods. A former president. They all showed up to pay tribute.

But in the final moments, as Williams prepared to walk off the court inside Ashe — probably for the final time — all she could think about was her family. The one she’s trying to build. The one that gave her this tennis life.

She thanked her father, who she said was watching from home. She thanked her mother, Oracene. “It all started with my parents,” she said. And then she thanked her sister Venus.

“I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t Venus,” she said, “so thank you, Venus. She’s the only reason that Serena Williams ever existed.”

Williams had lost — her final match ending just like her first — and in the end, in each and every single moment in between, she won.



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