Serena Williams dominated tennis. Your legacy is more than that.

Serena Williams’ retirement announcement in Vogue contained a revealing line about the motivation behind her playing career. She explains that turning negativity into gain has been a driving force for her.

“I’ve built my career on channeling anger and negativity and turning it into something good.” wrote Serena. “For me, that’s the essence of Serena: expecting the best in myself and proving people wrong. There were so many games I won because something made me angry or someone counted me out.”

It’s easy to appreciate the greatness of Serena Williams: 23 Grand Slam singles titles, four Olympic gold medals, 14 Grand Slam doubles titles and one “Serena Slam”, an off-calendar Grand Slam (winning the four major championships – Australia ). Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open – consecutively). That’s a galactic level of wins. But to get the bigger picture, you have to remember how badly the sport has treated Serena and her sister Venus – even if many people in the tennis world would like to forget.

Serena, now 40, said this will be her last US Open and her chance to claim a record-breaking 24 singles Grand Slam tournament wins. To do that, she has to defy tennis logic once again and win the whole damn thing. Essentially, she has to be Serena Williams, just one last time.

Let’s remember the parts of Serena Williams’ career that we’d rather forget

Throughout their careers, people kept telling Serena and her sister Venus not to do certain things. They were told that they had nothing to do with winning the game’s most coveted tournaments. Every time someone said “no” to Serena, she walked up and proved them wrong beyond a doubt.

The most visceral example of this might be 2001 Indian Wells, perhaps the ugliest moment in recent tennis history. Serena won her first US Open in 1999 and Venus won both Wimbledon and the US Open in 2000. As they became more dominant, players and commentators had talked about how her father Richard was not only a bad influence but also began to circulating the unfounded Rumor had it that if the sisters played each other, they would decide in advance who would win. At Indian Wells, a major tournament, Venus was scheduled to play Serena in the semifinals, but pulled out at the last minute due to injury. The crowd, angered by the walkover and agitated by rumors of match-fixing, booed the Williams family in the stands, some calling them racial slurs.

“They are in denial, but with less than the normal conviction, even anger, that one would expect in the face of such serious issues. How about banging on the table and saying it’s not? How about some tears, some anger?” Bill Dwyre, columnist for the LA Times wrote He stated at the time that he and the tennis community did not believe Venus’ injury was genuine and that the family acted suspiciously.

Serena and Venus Williams, stock images.

Venus, Richard, Serena and Brandy Williams
Art Seitz/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Because of the way they were treated and the racist attacks, Serena and Venus boycotted the tournament — despite its high payout and elite status — for more than a decade. At the time, tennis insiders and former players, including the great Martina Navratilova, consistently dismissed the idea of ​​racism against the sisters, insinuating that the backlash Serena and Venus received was their family’s fault.

Not every attack on Serena and Venus erupted on such a large scale. It often took the form of critical commentators there bodiesor like her good and as they were brave when they said they wanted to be the best. They have often been described as being fat and lazy or diverted through things other than tennis.

Not only did Serena Williams and her sister Venus beat the best players in the world – they won multiple Grand Slams before their respective 22nd birthdays – they also played a sport in which so many wanted to watch them fail or count them out. They took that pressure into every tournament, winning gracefully to the point where commentators and journalists had to change their minds.

“I remember there was a point, and it was later than you think – it was somewhere around her when she had 16 or 17 grand slams – when tennis commentators decided to talk about Serena specifically as a legend and not so much who open criticism they had of her,” Caitlin Thompson, the editor of Racquet Magazinetold me late last year during the release of King Richardthe film about the father of Serena and Venus.

“There’s this kind of retrospective narrative now. You’ll say, “I’ve always considered Venus and Serena to be elegant, transcendent champions.” And it’s like, really? Do you have? It didn’t sound like it back then,” she added.

Fifteen years ago, these commentators basically wrote Serena out of the Australian Open 2007. At the time, Serena was recovering from a string of injuries and entering the tournament unseeded. Still, she intended to be No. 1 again and said it was only a matter of time before she would return to the number one spot. Commentators and insiders called her “deceived‘ and out of shape; some speculated that Serena, who had dominated tennis just a few years before her injuries, was above her listed 135 pounds and that the women’s top 10 had passed Serena.

Despite not being seeded and facing a difficult draw full of talented players, Serena fought her way through the tournament, overwhelming her critics in every round. When the dust settled, the only woman standing between Serena Williams and another Grand Slam was Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova had asserted herself as Williams’ biggest competitor and successor. Before the final of the Aussie Open, the two played four times and divide the matches evenly. However, Sharapova was in better form after winning the US Open in the summer of 2006. Sharapova should be the favorite on paper.

But on the pitch where games are won and lost, Serena dominated.

In the first point of game six, Sharapova, reeling from the onslaught of William’s serves and backhands, aimed a smash straight at Serena’s body (usually a taboo in tennis as you could hurt someone). Serena glared at him. The crowd gasped.

If you watch the replay, it’s not entirely clear what she’s more angry about: that Sharapova attacked her or that she lost the point. Maybe it was both. But in that span of time, Serena seemed to have resolved never to lose to this woman again.

Not only would she beat Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 in that match, Serena would also beat her touted successor every time they played until Sharapova retired in 2020 – 18 times in 12 years, a 20th : 2 record . And Serena won 15 more Grand Slam singles titles after 2007, the year she was reportedly done for.

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova shake hands after a tennis match.

After 2007, Serena Williams, left, never lost to Maria Sharapova again.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The only way to explain why Serena would stick with tennis despite everything is that love looks like this. Serena’s love of tennis is the most obvious thing about this incomparable superstar.

It’s the unscientific reconciliation between human desire and human reality, wanting something so badly despite the emotional and physical pain (Serena has had so many injuries, even life-threatening pneumonia embolism ) will bring it.

Out of love, Serena and her sister dared to change tennis history and put themselves in the spotlight with their wins and losses. Love is the reason she felt very offended afterwards called scammers. For love, despite the physical limitations of a 40-year-old body, she’s giving herself another chance to win the US Open rather than sticking to the old advice Athletes should leave the game while at the forefront of the sport.

We are fortunate to witness it.

Not unlike what was said about Serena 15 years ago, the chances of Serena making the finals are slim. She wasn’t in top form and she’s not strong in fighting. She is currently 608th place in singles and has only won one match all year. It would take a miracle to win this Grand Slam, an exponentially greater feat than what she accomplished in Australia in 2007. But I’ll be heartbroken if she doesn’t. Somehow, against all logic, I still believe Serena can do it.

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