New Yorkers have one last chance to see the great Serena Williams play live at Arthur Ashe Stadium as the US Open gets underway this week, starting with her Monday match against Danka Kovinic. She’ll also compete in the doubles, partnered with older sister Venus.
With 23 championships under her belt — she won her first Grand Slam tournament, the 1999 US Open, at 17 — the GOAT is stepping away from the sport she dominated for over two decades. More, she made tennis fresh, exciting and dramatic, drawing younger eyes to the game.
The legendary Billie Jean King, who first met Serena as a 7-year-old, called her serve “the most beautiful in the history of our sport” and cited the “musical rhythm” of her play.
Add to that the unique nature of the sisters’ rise: They got their start on the Compton, Calif., public courts but (as seen in “King Richard,” the film depicting their childhood, on which they served as executive producers) skipped the usual youth tournaments before their thunderous entry to pro competition.
Notably, in 2002, Serena won the French Open, US Open and Wimbledon, defeating Venus in the finals of each. She won her last Grand Slam in 2017, while two months pregnant with daughter Olympia.
Serena’s skills made her a champion, but her confidence made her a cultural icon: She was hypnotizing to watch, keeping audiences at the edge of her seat with her drive and tenacity, often coming back from the brink of defeat to win matches.
She’s now being coy about exactly when she’ll completely retire, but she made it plain in a Vogue essay that she’s almost done: “I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out,” she wrote. And, at 41, “two feet in” will no longer work with motherhood.
Whereas “two feet out” allows an “evolution” that will also let her focus on Serena Ventures, her venture capital firm, and other interests. Her record and character suggest new triumphs lies ahead.
She’s proud of her tennis achievements, and of opening doors for future players, she notes in Vogue. And “I hope that people come to think of me as symbolizing something bigger than tennis.” That much seems guaranteed.