It was well past sunset in New York. But at Flushing Meadows, there was no room for darkness. After all, ever since Serena Williams took tennis by the reins in 1999, her endeavours on and off the square have produced a sharp arc of blinding brightness for the sport. Serena may have wound down her professional career as an athlete but her enduring greatness will remain, shaping many dreams and destinies. Her unique legacy will continue to flourish long after her last rally in tennis.
On Friday, 2 September, in the Big Apple, Serena was back inside Arthur Ashe for one final round of business at the US Open 2022. With Ajla Tomljanovic at the receiving end, Serena again showed the traits that characterise her phenomenal impact on the sport – power, agility, courage, and determination. But the most important of them all was her resilience.
By extending the match into a third set and taking it past the three-hour mark, Serena showcased, for one last time at the US Open, a typically undying spirit that has defined her life and career.
Growing in the shadow of her elder sister, Venus, helped Serena get the space and time she needed to sharpen her weapons. And finally, when she burst through the gates at the US Open, it was owing to the strength of her will and determination against a series of accomplished and more fancied opponents. That trait remained intact as Williams serenaded an eager New York crowd on another balmy night under the bright lights.
Her tennis was spectacular. No one ever witnessed a more powerful serve, from a woman. She possessed a forehand that could instantly turn the ball into a spitting sphere of venomous spin and raging fire. Serena was a towering presence at the net, intimidating the best with the quality of her volleys and the agility of her feet.
Serena has been supreme. She has been incomparable. 23 Grand Slam titles; 73 titles; two 'Serena Slams' achieved in 2003 and 2015; an Olympic Gold and an impressive 319 weeks at the top of the sport. Not to forget her 14 Grand Slam titles and three Olympic Golds playing doubles with Venus.
Why Serena Williams Is Much More Than Her Numbers and Statistics
But measuring Serena's tennis career by titles and numbers alone would be disrespectful not only to the athlete but also to the sport. Along with her sister Venus, the Williamses were brash ambassadors of equality in a sport that was divided across race and gender lines. Their deeds resurrected the stories of Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. More importantly, they gave life to the dreams of a new generation. Serena fueled the aspirations of millions of young children hitherto untouched by tennis.
The emergence of several players of colour – Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Taylor Townsend, and many others – was made possible by Serena's enormous journey. Her career allowed them the courage to dream and further receive opportunities to live out each of them in full glory.
The Williams sisters were instrumental in forcing the issue on prize money parity at the majors, with Wimbledon being the last of the male bastions to succumb to the unrelenting pressure of their excellence. Venus was more vocal, taking on authority front and centre, but it is hard to ignore the effect of Serena over this important debate in tennis.
Her mother Oracene Price is known to have stressed the importance of balance and perspective in life. Serena took her advice to heart. Even at the peak of her career, she was willing to explore a broader spectrum of interests that was well beyond her pursuit in sport.
Serena's eclectic expressions of hair, colours, and clothing sought to reflect her deep curiosity for fashion and aesthetic. Each of those choices reflected her bold attitude and unshakeable belief, tools that helped her soar to the sky from her childhood around the shaky pavements that lined her violent neighbourhood of Compton in the US.
Serena’s greatest contribution could be the wings on which she took flight. Her journey showed that her boldness has no limits and that those limits could indeed be shattered. Irrespective of adversity and despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. In scaling the tallest of peaks, time and again, Serena showed that her journey was as much about athletics as it was about leadership.
She was a transcendental hero – a superhuman in the mould of Jesse Owens, Pele, and Mohammed Ali. Each of them exceeded sport, embraced the society, and contributed to change.
Legacy To Continue in Future
Her life and career, even in their not-so-perfect moments, offered a desperately needed canvas for conversation. Serena’s achievements opened doors, shattered the ceiling, and carved new spaces for those that did not fit the stereotype. Like those before her, Serena unshackled many young women from the burden of definition, the constraints of social construct, and the curse of expectation.
While her tennis career leaves a ton of gold dust in its wake, a substantial part of her legacy could take shape in the future. Serena and her partners have been investing in the leadership of women through Serena Ventures.
Their venture capital looks to ‘level the playing field for women and people of colour.' In that sense, her greatest contribution to tennis may still lie ahead as she invests her time and energy in shaping the future of those who are ignored or undermined by conventional investors.
Serena may have been trading in tennis but her currency is courage and her inventory is inspiration. In lending them to those in sport, life, and business, Serena’s tennis story could only be the first of many glorious chapters.