When I first wrote “professionally” about Serena Williams, back when Bleacher Report was still an onslaught of slideshows, I called her overrated. I had just graduated from college and my horrible, horrible, horrible opinion was that she wasn’t winning as much as she could. That was more than a decade ago, and it was at a time when Roger Federer was dancing to Wimbledon titles.
I couldn’t understand why the best player by far didn’t win every time she stepped onto the pitch. Serena was in that thin air that if she lost, it wasn’t so much someone hitting her as she was hitting herself. Her singles career win rate sits at .850, and we’ve seen her dominate so often and so much that, after delirious the US Open crowd earlier this week with a win over No. 2 Anett Kontaveit, she went for was favored for Friday’s game against Ajla Tomljanovic.
Had it not been for Serena and Venus’ double loss in the first round on Thursday night, I would have assumed Friday was a formality. Whether it was Tuesday’s three-set win or the sheer pressure that comes from having all eyes and hopes on every shot, it was evident that Serena was beyond exhausted even as she tried to cover her half of the court.
She put up a brave effort on Friday to take the second set in a tie-break, and even then you could still persuade Serena to push her way through the third set and into the fourth round.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, and as sad as it is to see GOAT retiring from the game, I also felt a sense of relief for Serena. She won her first Grand Slam in 1999 when I was 14. I’m 36 now. I can hardly remember a time when she wasn’t playing tennis and it’s safe to assume Serena can hardly remember a time when she wasn’t with a racquet in her hands.
Now, a woman, whom doors open for before she even thinks about stepping through them, can do whatever she wants. Any avenue she desires to explore is available. Fashion, business, broadcasting, acting, surfing, writing, equestrian-ing, disc golfing, biochemistry, more motherhood — her future is literally carte blanche.
She made Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama fan girl out, and considering the things those two Black women have accomplished, the potential reach of Serena’s post-playing career is enthralling. Her influence expanded beyond the confines of Flushing Meadows, Rolland Garros, Melbourne Park, and the All England Club years ago. No longer can she be reduced to just a professional athlete.
This is not a retirement, it’s a rite of passage to a place few of her GOAT peers can reach. Serena doesn’t simply represent what a Black woman can accomplish in tennis. She represents what a Black girl from Compton can do in life.
After the match, through tears, Williams tried to put into words the indescribable.
“It’s been a fun ride. It’s been the most incredible ride and journey I’ve ever been on.”
While her next steps might not elicit the same surge of adrenaline that came with smashing a winner up the line or hoisting a trophy, the impact she will undoubtedly have on young women of color (and in general) is sure to spark tsunamis of endorphins.
The ride isn’t over, it’s barely begun. Congrats on an amazing career, Serena. I can’t wait to see what field you dominate next.