Serena Williams’ retirement is a major loss for tennis

We all knew this sad day was coming, but it still hurts like a 120-mph beat in the stomach: Serena Williams, the greatest American tennis player of all time, is retiring.

The 40-year-old tennis superstar revealed in an essay for Vogue on Tuesday that she is “moving away” from the sport. Williams added that this year’s US Open, which begins August 29, will be her final tournament. Fittingly, she will bid farewell on the same stage where she won her first Grand Slam in 1999, aged just 17.

It’s the biggest departure from US tennis since Andy Roddick hung up his racquet in 2012 – but much more massive than that.

Roddick ended up winning just one slam. Williams has won an otherworldly 23. That’s more than fellow greats Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who remains steady at 22.

Williams is without a doubt a one-time athlete on the same godlike level as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, LeBron James or Tom Brady. The sports world will be a lot less wild or fascinating without them.

No more brutal knockdowns from underpowered opponents; no more headline-grabbing tutus and catsuits; no more controversies obsessing the planet.

Serena Williams won her first Grand Slam, the 2009 US Open, at just 17 years old.
Williams won her first Grand Slam, the 1999 US Open, when she was just 17 years old.
Getty Images

I will particularly miss witnessing William’s extraordinary ability to wreak havoc on a crowd. The best tennis players know how to get a stadium on their side to win, but Williams — yelling “Come on!” in court so loud she could almost shake it — did it like a heated politician at a rally.

The nightly screams from fans at Ashe Stadium, the world’s largest tennis court, were deafening. My doctor is mad at Williams for irreparably damaging my hearing.

What set her apart for more than 20 years, much to the chagrin of some, was that Williams cared little for the old-school refinement of women’s tennis. She brought pure, unfiltered emotion to every game, which made her sparkle. Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Lindsay Davenport and Billie Jean King were great players, but Williams was uniquely open and punishing. A true star, Williams made a country club sport sizzle like a boxing ring.

Serena Williams and sister Venus Williams have played each other 16 times in Grand Slams.
Serena Williams and sister Venus Williams have played each other 16 times in Grand Slams.
NY Daily News via Getty Images

And her run is not over yet.

The Open will not just be a farewell party with coffee cake and balloons. Williams will be desperate to tie Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam wins – the most of any woman or man in history. She will yearn to go upstairs. She sailed through her first round at the National Bank Open in Toronto in straight sets on Monday and is starting to find her form. Only a fool would count them.

However, the time comes for everyone, and Williams has struggled in her two previous Slam appearances – Wimbledon 2021 and 2022 – both times in which she bowed out in the first round. Stopping now makes sense. She has a clothing line, book deals, film projects and a venture capital firm to keep her busy. And well paid. And culturally relevant.

Stats aside, Williams has more to be proud of. She paved the way for black athletes and women. Aside from being one of the highest paid women in esports, she also won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant with daughter Alexis Olympia, whom she shares with husband and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

Serena Williams won the 2017 Australian Open, her last Grand Slam win, while pregnant with daughter Alexis Olympia.
Williams won the 2017 Australian Open, her last Grand Slam win, while pregnant with daughter Alexis Olympia.

But Williams – like her male counterparts Novak Djokovic or John McEnroe – has also had her share of controversies in court. She was fined in 2009 for threatening a linesman, and she lost the 2018 US Open final to Naomi Osaka with penalty-triggering outbursts that led to boos and tears.

Your legacy is a complex legacy, but whose isn’t?

Williams’ storied run was stunning to watch. 23 Grand Slams, 319 weeks as world No. 1, four Olympic gold medals. She helped feed Americans’ insatiable appetite for tennis and changed the sport’s world with a racquet and an indomitable spirit. Serena Williams’ retirement is a major loss for tennis

Emma Bowman

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