Given her impeccable standards, it wasn’t the fairytale ending she probably would have wished for, but the reaction from those at Arthur Ashe Stadium was further proof of how important Williams was to the game.
Throughout the week, players and fans at the US Open shared stories of how their lives impacted their own, and their appreciation was shown through banners in the stands and messages on social media.
The 40-year-old is completing the final chapter of her remarkable career after winning a staggering 39 Grand Slam titles – 23 singles titles, 14 doubles titles and two mixed doubles titles.
Williams does, however, finish a singles Grand Slam singles title behind Australia’s Margaret Court’s all-time record, but she says she’s more than resigned to it.
“Should, would, could. I didn’t show up like I should or could have. But I showed up 23 times, and that’s fine. Actually, it’s extraordinary.”
Along with her sister Venus, Serena Williams inspired a generation of youth to pick up a racquet and left an indelible mark on the sport.
The pair inspired Hollywood, most notably the movie King Richard, which showcased the dedication and focus it took the entire Williams family to produce two of the greatest players to ever step onto the field.
Her father, Richard Williams, is the focus of this film and as her coach, he trained her hard in the seedy public spaces of Compton, Los Angeles in the 1990s. It was a teaching that laid the foundation for their careers and inspired others from all walks of life to believe.
“I think they do [Williams’] The legacy is really so rich that it cannot even be described in words,” said four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka when describing Serena Williams’ influence ahead of the US Open.
“She changed the sport so much. She introduced the sport to people who had never heard of tennis.
“I think I’m a product of what she did. I wouldn’t be here without Serena, Venus, her whole family. I am very grateful to her.”
williams;’ She made her professional debut in 1995 when she was defeated by Annie Miller when she was just 14 years old.
She developed quickly and did not have to wait long for cutlery. In 1999 she won her first Grand Slam singles title at the US Open.
It was a trophy she would win five more times while touring around the world entertaining thousands of fans along the way.
Overall, she won seven singles titles at Wimbledon, three at the French Open and seven at the Australian Open, becoming arguably the biggest name in the sport in the entire world.
With her often unstoppable strength and mental toughness, she has defeated generations of tennis players. At her peak she was unplayable; only she could beat herself.
Some of the sport’s biggest names have paid tribute to Williams and her performances during the US Open. Following Friday’s loss, four-time NBA champion LeBron James posted a video to Twitter applauding Williams’ performances.
“Wow, where do I start?” he said. “First of all I want to congratulate you on an incredible career. You are a GOAT. What you’ve done for the sport of tennis, what you’ve done for women and what you’ve done for the sport category, period, is unprecedented.
“It’s been an honor to watch your journey, to see you achieve every goal you’ve ever set your mind to, to see you break records, to see you not only on the tennis court but off it are amazing and transcendent.
“I can literally sit here and talk about your journey and just talk about watching you from afar and talking about our relationship for an hour now, but I don’t want to bore you too much with things you already know. So I just want to say thank you for being this inspiration to so many.”
In a tweet, 15-time golf major winner Tiger Woods said: “You are literally the greatest on and off the course. Thank you for inspiring us all to achieve our dreams. I love you little sister!!!!! “
A career of resilience
However, as she reached the twilight of her career, the ubiquitous favorite at Grand Slams had to take on a new role — one that was less familiar to her.
Since returning from a hiatus following the birth of her daughter, Williams hasn’t been the irrepressible player she once was.
The heart was there, of course it was, and there were more than enough magical looks to make one think a 24th Grand Slam was possible, but ultimately the challenge was too great.
In truth, however, it’s notable that Williams even played on the court after a life-threatening childbirth experience.
Their daughter Olympia was born via an emergency C-section, and while that operation went smoothly, Williams suffered complications afterwards.
“It started with a pulmonary embolism, where one or more arteries in the lungs become blocked by a blood clot,” she wrote for CNN.
“Because of my medical history with this problem, I live in fear of this situation. When I got short of breath I didn’t wait a second to alert the nurses.
“This set off a series of health complications which I luckily survived. First, my cesarean wound opened up due to the intense coughing I had to endure as a result of the embolism.
“I returned for surgery where the doctors found a large hematoma, a swelling of clotted blood, in my abdomen. And then I returned to the operating room to have a procedure to prevent blood clots from getting into my lungs.
“When I finally got home to my family, I had to spend the first six weeks of motherhood in bed.”
It’s a story of resilience that’s a microcosm of her career.
Williams has always found a way to keep showing up, fighting through multiple injuries and continuing to play while suffering from postpartum depression.
That’s why she will be remembered for much more than her tennis achievements and sponsorship deals.
Throughout her life, Williams has sacrificed everything for her profession – which ultimately made her one of the greatest and most memorable athletes in the world – but now she’s ready to “evolve” from a sport.
According to Reuters, Williams earned over $94 million in prize money, but earned an estimated $340 million from endorsements, and her sponsorship deals are unlikely to dry up.
Her retirement will now give her more time to pursue business ventures and she is eager to give back through her roles as a charity ambassador.
And while Williams will undoubtedly have a successful post-tennis career, the sport will suffer without her on tour.
“I’m terrible at goodbyes, the worst thing in the world. But please know that I am more grateful to you than I can ever put into words,” she wrote in her Vogue article.
“You carried me to so many wins and so many trophies. I will miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis. And I will miss you.”