Serena Williams and Roger Federer’s retirement leaves a hole in tennis: NPR

Serena Williams and Roger Federer take a selfie after their mixed doubles match on January 1, 2019 in Perth, Australia.

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Serena Williams and Roger Federer take a selfie after their mixed doubles match on January 1, 2019 in Perth, Australia.

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On New Year’s Day 2019, tennis greats Serena Williams and Roger Federer entered the court as opponents.

It was an unusual treat for fans of the sport as the two superstars, who dominated their respective fields in women’s and men’s tennis, faced off in a mixed doubles match.

But any competitive energy Williams and Federer exerted during the game melted away during the game a post-game interviewas they exchanged compliments and happily recounted what it’s like to play against the best in the world.

“It was super cool for me,” Williams said, laughing. “I literally wanted to take pictures and I wanted to get my baby out. I’m way too excited.”

Federer hits a backhand during a singles match at Wimbledon 2021.

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Federer hits a backhand during a singles match at Wimbledon 2021.

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Federer was also enthusiastic.

“It was also a bit nerve wracking to be honest because all of a sudden, especially on the last serve, I was like, ‘I have to win this point, but it’s Serena Williams! ‘” he said to the laughter of the crowd.

“And I said to myself, maybe this is what I’ve always wanted, a big moment like this,” added Federer, smiling.

Now Williams, 40, and Federer, 41, have announced their plans to retire in quick succession, leaving the tennis world without two legendary competitors who were among the best the sport has ever seen and whose appeal eclipsed the game .

Her retirement leaves a “gaping hole” in the tennis world

Jon Wertheim, a senior writer at sports illustrated and a Tennis Channel analyst told NPR that given their age, Williams and Federer are expected to plan to retire. But the announcements came as a shock nonetheless.

“It’s like having the Sears Tower and the Empire State Building demolished in a matter of weeks,” he said.

Williams announced last month Fashion Magazine website that she would retire after this year’s US Open, saying that at her age “something has to give way”.

Federer’s announcement came last week. He said his body’s “message to me has been clear lately” and noted his final competition would be this week’s Laver Cup in London.

Williams and Federer have 23 and 20 Grand Slam titles respectively, but neither player has won a major title in recent years.

Williams waves to fans after being defeated by Ajla Tomlijanovic of Australia at the 2022 US Open.

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Williams waves to fans after being defeated by Ajla Tomlijanovic of Australia at the 2022 US Open.

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The current top tennis players – Carlos Alcaraz from Spain and Iga Swiatek from Poland – are 19 and 21 years old. And men’s tennis greats Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are still at it, Wertheim noted.

“The sport kind of passed by [Federer and Williams] on both the men’s and women’s sides but I think it’s just that gaping hole in terms of what the casual fans think of when they think of tennis.

The impact of Williams and Federer went beyond the sport

For Williams, her impact stems not only from her athletic ability but also from her public coming of age as a black woman in a historically white sport.

Williams and her sister, tennis player Venus, have been criticized throughout their careers for appearing after Venus was fined in 1999 for her hair beads falling out until Serena was accused of disrespecting tennis afterwards wears a black catsuit during the French Open 2018.

The family was too subjected to racist commentsincluding about Serena’s pregnancy with husband Alexis Ohanian, who is white.

Akilah Carter-Francique, dean of Benedict College’s School of Education, Health and Human Services, told NPR the Williams sisters have had to navigate a tennis world that hasn’t always welcomed them.

“The isms were definitely out there, be it racism, sexism, classism. All of these things they had to fight and endure in real time in front of us in a media-heavy space,” she said. “You did it with such grace.”

And because the elite athletes were also becoming cultural icons, Carter-Francique proposed expanding their appeal not just to aspiring tennis players, but also to young girls and women and black youth and youth other youth of color.

“Here’s a space that wasn’t designed for them, but they came in and redesigned it, pushed the boundaries, raised the bar in many ways and influenced not only tennis culture but, I think, pop culture,” she said.

Federer, who like the Williams sisters started playing tennis at a young age, has been characterized through his effortless playing style and decency to other players, fans and the media.

Djokovic, one of Federer’s biggest rivals, said on Instagram that the Swiss’s career “set the tone for what it means to achieve excellence and lead with integrity and composure”.

Now that Williams and Federer are on their way out, tennis is entering a new phase.

But Wertheim suggested it may actually be because of the pair’s contributions that tennis remains as popular and relevant as ever, even as two of its biggest names move on.

“Perhaps their ultimate legacy is that their individual loss won’t really come at the expense of the sport because they brought so many new people to the party.”

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