Although she notoriously does not like to use the word “retirement,” Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes to ever live, has officially stepped down from tennis. In September, she was eliminated from the US Open in the last match of her career. The impact she has on sports, however, will last far longer than her accomplished career.
Serena Williams made her professional debut in 1995, following the footsteps of her sister, Venus. Serena said in a Vogue interview that Venus was the one who had the natural talent in the game of tennis; she was just lucky to learn from her older sister’s mistakes. Since Serena did not have the opportunities that her sister had, she said that “It made [her] work harder, turning [her] into a savage fighter… [she] learned the lessons from Venus’s losses.” She asserts that she grew up as the younger sister of a future tennis star instead of being a future tennis star herself.
No matter what her beginning was like, there is no denying her legendary impact on the game of tennis and sports for women. She changed women’s tennis through her aggressive, powerful style of play. She finished her career with the most Grand Slams single titles than another other player – man or woman – during the Open Era. She was the first Black woman to ever win a Grand Slam Title in 1999, and three years later won the French Open, Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open, becoming just the fifth woman to hold all major titles at once. This coined a new term: the “Serena Slam.” The last Grand Slam she won was in 2017, when she was two months pregnant with her daughter, Olympia.
Her years of playing weren't always smooth, however. Multiple times during her storied career, her identity as a woman overshadowed her tennis skills. Yet she was quick to call out the double standards she faced. During the 2018 US Open, she exchanged words with an umpire after he gave her three on-court violations due to her “unsportsmanlike” conduct. However, she demanded respect by pointing out prominent male tennis players’ similar actions that went unpunished. She has used that event to speak out against the unfair treatment Black women face in other contexts, too. She told GQ, “Funny how a Black female tennis player is held to a higher standard to keep her emotions in check than a Supreme Court nominee.”
That same year, she wore braids and a catsuit to the French Open, which stirred much controversy. Following the tournament, the French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli told Tennis magazine that the federation would introduce a "dress code" because "sometimes we've gone too far," which prohibited Serena from wearing it again at the tournament. She spoke out against this too, calling out the racism ingrained in the game of tennis.
Serena Williams has made an impact beyond the game of tennis: she has investments in more than 60 startups and is valued at over $240 million. The vast majority of her investments support businesses by Black women. Even though she is now out of the game of tennis, her presence will continue to remind the world of the inspiration that she provides.