In tears, lip service, Serena Williams announced Friday after her elimination in the third round of the US Open that we would probably not see her again on the tennis courts, where she built one of the careers most prolific in all sports.
At the question “Are you going to reconsider your decision to retire?”, the 23-time Grand Slam champion responded “I don’t think so, but you never know”. The American had just lost to Australian Ajla Tomljanovic (46th in the world) 7-5, 6-7 (4/7), 6-1.
We actually never know. But many stars, including some close friends, did not wait to pay him a vibrant tribute to the occasion. “Champion. Heroin. Legend forever!” tweeted television star Oprah Winfrey, when former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama greeted “a girl from Compton” become “one of the greatest sportswomen of all time”. “It has been an honor to follow your journey. I just want to thank you for being this inspiration to so many people.” wrote NBA superstar LeBron James.
Serena Williams, who will be 41 on September 26, announced at the beginning of August that she would soon stop competing, without saying where or when. The New York Major, where she won in 1999, at 17, the first of her 23 Grand Slam titles, seemed to be the ideal way out.
“It was an incredible journey”, she launched, moved. “Thank you dad, I know you’re watching, thank you mom (who was present in the stands), thank you to all the people who have supported me all this time, my God it’s been decades”, she said, before completely bursting into tears, referring to her older sister: “I wouldn’t be Serena if it wasn’t for Venus, so thank you Venus.”
Since her first professional encounter in Quebec City in 1995 (unclassified, she had lost in the first qualifying round), Serena Williams has pushed back the barriers of her sport, of which she has become the undisputed queen in 27 seasons… even if she failed to a small unit of the record for Grand Slam titles held by Australian Margaret Court (24).
After her last major title (Australia 2017) and the birth a few months later of her daughter Olympia, from her marriage to the co-founder of the social network Reddit Alexis Ohanian, she played four more finals (Wimbledon and US Open 2018, Wimbledon and US Open 2019) without managing to win his Grail.
She then gradually moved away from the circuit. In recent years, she has only played a few tournaments a year with the Majors as a priority, devoting herself more and more, in addition to her role as mother, to her side activities, in particular in and around fashion, rather than to the tennis.
Absent from the circuit since her retirement from injury in the first round of Wimbledon 2021, she had made a surprise return this summer in the Major on grass where she was again eliminated in the first round. A few weeks later, after losing in the second round in Toronto and the first in Cincinnati, she therefore resolved to put away the rackets. World N.1 for 319 weeks in total, more than six years (the first time on July 8, 2002, the last time the week of May 8, 2017), she was only ranked 605th on the evening of her retirement.
Only Martina Navratilova (332) and Steffi Graf (377) have spent more time than her at the top of the women’s tennis pyramid.
Between his first title in 1999 in Paris and his 73rd and last in Auckland in 2020, Serena Williams, the youngest of a family of five girls, dominated the circuit almost unchallenged. And garnered $94.8 million in tournament winnings. A hell of a journey for the player born in Saginaw (Michigan) and who grew up in Compton, a long time a violent ghetto of greater Los Angeles.
With her power and her will, she bent all her main adversaries, from her sister Venus to Ashleigh Barty, including her great rival Maria Sharapova, Viktoria Azarenka, Justine Hénin, Amélie Mauresmo, Kim Klijsters, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis , Monica Seles or Steffi Graf.
His dominance could have been even more overwhelming had it not been for some heavy physical and health issues (including a pulmonary embolism that nearly cost him his life in 2011). In addition to the Majors record, Serena Williams will also have missed the Grand Slam (winning the four major tournaments in the same year). However, she has twice achieved a feat that has since borne her name: the “Serena Slam”, namely winning the four majors in a row, but straddling two years (2002-2003 and 2014-2015).