Serena Williams’ magnetic pull at the US Open was strong enough to convert the cynics

This week it was all about Serena Williams and what she gave.

What she gave to the game of tennis, what she gave to so many female athletes, what she gave to black women.

Luckily since they heavily hinted at in an essay for Vogue last month that this US Open will be her last, Serena was celebrated in the same way she has played her whole life: passionately, unapologetically, loudly.

In Cincinnati and Toronto, she was even hugged when she said goodbye in the first round.

Her reception at these tournaments foreshadowed what was to come at Flushing Meadows, where for 20 years she was the artist to Arthur Ashe, Empress of the Evening Games, Queen of the (Billie Jean) King Tennis Center.

Their opening game on Monday night brought a huge crowd to the stands and onto the screens: a record breaking 29,402 fans attended the session, and on Wednesday that number was one Shadows below 30,000; nearly 2.3 million were set on ESPN (the audience reached 5 million), away 1.75 million on Monday, and these don’t include streaming numbers. Not to mention the Ticket prices for balloon rides in New York — at least $500 to get in, according to the ESPN show Thursday night — for their next singles match.

Serena and her sister Venus have endured racism for much of their careers. It was never far away when two black girls from Compton, California, who wore pearls in their pigtails in their younger years, rose up the rankings in a sport that had long been deliberately reserved for white players. The Williams sisters didn’t come out of wealth or a country club path. First of all, there were the frequent drug tests for Serena, what she described as discriminatory. your strength and Physiques were constantly criticized. Her occasional outbursts always scrutinized, a media contingent that’s been hostile for far too long (that was printedproud, from an Australian outlet in 2018).

It’s all the more remarkable to add up what the Williams sisters have achieved, but it also makes the reception Serena is receiving all the sweeter.

Heading into her third round at the US Open, Serena Williams has left behind a legion of fans eager to give her flowers in farewell.  (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Heading into her third round at the US Open, Serena Williams has left behind a legion of fans eager to give her flowers in farewell. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Just as she overpowered opponents, she overpowered tennis. With an undeniable record of victories, a longevity almost unmatched, a fierce will, and their now-characteristic whirls of victory, it’s impossible not to appreciate them.

She has never suffered fools. She has never done what women have long been conditioned to do, which is to belittle themselves, their ambitions, or their accomplishments for the benefit of others. She never did not fight – for points, for games, for respect, for equal pay, even for her own life when she felt like doctors weren’t listening to her in the hours after the birth of their daughter Olympia in 2017.

She’s always loved herself out loud, her beautiful curves and luscious lips and rolled-up hair, and that has resonated with black women who have been told, implicitly and explicitly, that those things are unattractive for so long.

Serena has given all of these things to countless others and to me.

And there’s something else Serena gave me just this week: a reminder of why I wanted to be a sportswriter, why I decided when I was 16 that it’s the only thing I want to do when I grow up. After spending decades in press boxes where reporters can’t cheer, I’m exhausted. After writing about some of the uglier events and downsides of sport far too often over the past few years (shining a light that needs to be lit, to put it bluntly), I’ve found myself reflecting on sport, the business part of it , annoyed.

But on Wednesday night I sat on our couch, first with my husband and younger children and then alone as they broke up at their respective bedtimes.

I pumped my fist. I hit the gray upholstered cushions. I urged them to get back on track in the second set, then cheered and clapped, trying not to scream too loudly so I wouldn’t wake my young daughters in the third set – and was mostly successful until Serena won and so did I yelled loudly our 8-year-old came down the stairs and asked: “Mom, did Serena win?”

It’s been a long time since I got to do that, just sit and be a fan, with no laptop, no notebook, no rapidly approaching deadline. I just watched a sport I love played by an athlete I adore.

Serena plays again on Friday night in the third round against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic. It could be their last singles match.

If not, the celebration continues. As Serena said on Wednesday, she no longer has anything to prove.

If so, can we all say thank you again for all she has given us all.

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