CHENNAI: As Serena Williams walked off into the sunset following an emotional three-set third-round loss at the US Open, the answer to her legacy was visible all over social media. Black sportspersons — Simone Biles, James Blake, Allyson Felix, LeBron James, Coco Gauff and Tiger Woods to name a few — had already posted their tributes, thanking Williams for the positive effect she had on their lives.
Her on-court successes and the off-court battles she had to fight paved the way for others. By the time she called time on an incredible career on Friday night, she had helped bring about a cultural change in a very white sport and broke open the barriers for aspiring sportspersons in other disciplines.
“You are literally the greatest on and off the court,” tweeted Woods. “Thank you for inspiring all of us to pursue our dreams.” When she started out in Compton, California, her father, Richard, laid out his dream. Both Serena and Venus would aim and eventually reach the top. At the time, that belief itself was ridiculed. They were laughed at, Serena was body shamed and she had to face jeers from people who she thought were her fans.
Quickly, she won over all of them with a brand of aggression that was thrilling and ruthless in equal measure. Titles were hoarded, opponents were quashed and rivals were left gasping for air. Her legend only grew as she won a 23rd Major when she was two months pregnant. She then survived a life-threatening condition after giving birth to Olympia which left her bedridden for weeks.
Like everything else she faced, she fought back, rebelled and made four Major finals. On Friday night, in her loss against Ajla Tomljanovic, the final game, in a sense, was the only way she would bow out. It was over 13 minutes long, with Serena saving five match points. A fighter who bowed out on her own terms.
She wouldn’t have wanted to go out in any other manner.
Serena Williams (US)
Place of birth: Saginaw, Michigan
Lives in: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Highest world ranking: 1
Turned professional: 1995
Grand Slam titles: 23