By Olivia Barker-Dell
If you don’t know who Serena Williams is, think again– of course you do. She has won 39 Grand Slam titles across doubles and singles, as well as countless other tournament wins. Williams recently retired from the pro tennis tour, stating she was ready to “evolve” away from the sport . The tennis world, in response, celebrated her and all that she has done for the sport during her last matches at the US Open in Queens last month. But Serena Williams is so much more than just another top tennis player. She has revolutionized tennis as we know it today for all players, no matter their race or gender.
Serena Williams was born in Saginaw, Michigan, although she grew up and began her tennis training in Compton, California. The Williams family was already a tennis-oriented family before Serena and her sister, Venus, became all-time greats. Starting at the age of three, Serena began playing on their local public courts in Compton, coached by her mother, Oracene Price, and her father, Richard Williams. She kept practicing with coaches from all over the world and eventually became a professional tennis player at 14. She quickly joined the ranks of the top players on the tour, including her childhood idols like Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, and Chris Evert. She won her first major title at the age of 18 at the US Open, which is coincidentally where she would eventually play her last major in 2022.
As her career progressed, Serena continued to show the world she was the best on the court by beating countless high-ranked players– including her sister– to gain the highest achivement in tennis: a Grand Slam title. Between the 2003 Austrialian Open and 2003 US Open, she won all four titles consecutively. Soon, she was ranked as the number one women’s player in the world . But following that success came consistent injuries. But Serena just kept coming back to climb the ranks and take back the number one spot. From 1995 through 2017, she won 23 major titles.
For decades, tennis has been a white-dominated and male-dominated sport. Not only is tennis like this on the professional level, we see this pattern within country clubs or similar tennis clubs all over the world. Tennis originated in France, but as it spread, it quickly became a sport that many affluent families played for recreational purposes, especially as an alternative to golf. Like golf, tennis is also a low-impact sport that can be played by a range of ages, which makes it a perfect game to have at a country club The only way to get into a country club was (and for the most part, still is) to have a high status in society, a recommendation from a well-known member, and a sizable monthly fee. Even in the modern day when not as many people have the interest in joining a country club, to even play tennis, you will need the standard gear, a coach or partner, and a place to play. And if you have ever attempted to get into tennis, you know that these requirements get expensive fast. “I entered a sport that was all white, and it definitely wasn’t easy, looking back”, said Williams in an interview with Sky Sports.
So, as Serena Williams began to rise, she showed the world that tennis wasn’t only for the white elites. She inspired millions of people, no matter their socioeconomic status, that they have the ability and the power to become top tennis players. Throughout Williams’ career, she had developed the hope that through her game and publicity she would be able to inspire young girls and boys of color everywhere to play the game as she did. Williams has spoken numerous times about her experience as a woman of color in her sport. She says, “It doesn’t matter what your background is or where you come from, if you have dreams and goals, that’s all that matters”.
After years of dedication to the sport Williams said, “I’ve been reluctant to admit that I have to move on from playing tennis. It’s like a taboo topic. It comes up, and I start to cry. I think the only person I’ve really gone there with is my therapist”. Fans were emotional when she spoke of her retirement, as they realized the 2022 US Open would be her last tournament. Yatri Patel, a junior on the Beacon girls’ varsity tennis team, watched Williams’ second round match live. She said that “You could feel the tension to see how each point played out…When I was watching her last match it was full of ‘yays,’ but it also made me frustrated when she would lose a point knowing that she was another point away from [possibly] playing her last point”. Still, it’s only right that Williams ended her amazing career at the US Open, as she has won six singles titles there. She went straight to the round of sixteen where she played her first match against Danka Kovinic and won a steady two sets, (6,3),(6,3). Advancing in the tournament, she faced the number two seed, and the number two in the world: Anett Kontaveit, showing the world she still had the ambition so close to her retirement. Sadly her reign ended in round three, against Ajla Tomlijanovic, but she put up a great fight in one of the most unbelievable matches I’ve watched. As soon as you thought the game was over, Williams would once again save the match point. Even though Williams didn’t make it as far as all her fans wished , the US Open gave her the most spectacular send-off. After her round-one win, they rolled out the speeches, the pictures, and the fans, giving her an emotional but congratulatory goodbye.
Serena Williams will always be the face of tennis, and in my eyes, the greatest of all time. Even though tennis has always been the biggest part of her life, she has so much more to do. Sophomore Patrycja Filonik reflected on the match, saying that “After she missed the last point in the net, she seemed relieved, almost. She finally got the feeling of the ending of a great career.” As said, during Williams’ last point she showed signs of comfort, because she has new opportunities to expand on other aspects of her life such as her clothing line. Williams will always have a huge following as she inspires everyone around her, and she will forever be a role model.