It’s almost the end of an era.
Serena Williams, 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, one of the greatest tennis players of all time and an icon of the sport, is retiring.
It’s hard to imagine tennis without the American legend, who has won everything there is to win over a 27-year career.
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From a purely sporting perspective, Williams will be remembered as one of the game’s greatest competitors, an athlete who possessed the purest serve in women’s tennis and a will to win that never wavered.
She will also be remembered for her stance against racism, her fight for gender parity and equal pricing, and her experience of the healthcare system as a black woman.
World No. 11 Coco Gauff, 18, says Williams is “the reason I play tennis” and that her legacy can “inspire many other generations”, while Britain’s No. 1 Emma Raducanu, 19, says she is “changed the game”.
“Tennis is a predominantly white sport, that definitely helped a lot,” says Gauff. “Because I saw someone who looked like me dominating the game. That made me think I could dominate too.”
BBC Sport looks back on the highlights of an iconic career here.
First Grand Slam success – US Open 1999
At just 17, Williams was on a terrific run to win her first Grand Slam singles title in New York. She defeated world No. 4 Monica Seles in the quarterfinals, then world No. 2 Lindsey Davenport before meeting world No. 1 Martina Hingis in the final.
Winning in straight sets, Williams became the first African American in the open era to win a major singles tournament. Finally, she and Venus won the doubles title that same weekend.
Fighting Racism – Indian Wells 2001
Both Williams sisters have spoken out about the racism they faced during their careers in a traditionally white sport and the struggles of their father Richard.
The two sisters would meet in the semifinals of the 2001 Indian Wells tournament, one of the biggest non-Grand Slam events. However, when Venus fell out injured, Richard and the sisters were accused of match-fixing. Serena was then heavily booed when she faced Kim Clijsters in the final, and both Richard and Venus said they had been racially abused by the crowd.
Serena wins and immediately hugs her father in the stands. She and Venus subsequently boycotted the event for many years, with Serena not returning until 2015 and Venus a year later.
Complete the “Serena Slam” – Australian Open 2003
Williams arrived in Melbourne with an incredible Grand Slam streak, having won every major tournament since the 2002 French Open. Only the Australian Open trophy is missing from her cabinet.
She had to take the hard route in Melbourne, saving two match points and overcoming a 5-1 third-set deficit against Kim Clijsters in the semifinals to reach the final. She went on to beat Venus to earn her fourth straight singles triumph. She also won a career Grand Slam and an off-calendar Grand Slam at just 22 years old.
Double win at SW19 – Wimbledon 2012 and London Olympics
Williams’ triumphs on the grass at Wimbledon marked the beginning of a period of resurgence during which she won nine more major singles titles.
She continued her journey at Wimbledon with a dominating performance to win gold in the Olympic singles. Williams defeated Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 in just 62 minutes on the same court Sharapova memorably beat her on in 2004. It was Sharapova’s heaviest loss to Williams, with the American winning 22 of her 24 meetings in 15 years.
A new “Serena Slam” ahead of the US Open – 2015
Williams started and finished the 2015 season as world number one, winning the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon in addition to her 2014 US Open title and securing another ‘Serena Slam’.
She’s on her way to the grand slam of the calendar in New York, and in the semifinals she’ll face Italy’s Roberta Vinci, whom she’s beaten four times in a row. She won the first set and led 2-0 in the decider before the unseeded Italian charged back to stun Williams and the home crowd. Williams later described the loss as a heartbreaking loss.
Victory at 8 weeks gestation – Australian Open 2017
Shortly before the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, Williams found out that she was expecting her first child. At eight weeks pregnant, she won her eighth Australian Open title, overtaking Steffi Graf on the list of Open-era big winners, only ahead of Margaret Court.
She didn’t drop a set in Melbourne and, to underline her dominance, reclaimed first place in the world rankings before going on maternity leave.
The “Superhero Costume” – Roland-Garros 2018
Ms. Williams has spoken at length about the healthcare challenges Black women in the United States face, including complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. Williams himself nearly died from an embolism after giving birth to Olympia.
Eight months after giving birth, she made her Grand Slam comeback at Roland Garros wearing a black jumpsuit that not only made her feel like “a Queen of Wakanda” but also helped her deal with blood clots. Two months later, she reached the Wimbledon final, where she lost to Angelique Kerber.
The controversy in New York – US Open 2018
Williams has repeatedly said that breaking Court’s record was “the only reason” she continued playing after the birth of her daughter and it seemed appropriate that they pick it up on their home turf after reaching the US Open final could.
Williams was the overwhelming favorite against runner-up Naomi Osaka. Williams’ anger at referee Carlos Ramos, whom she called a liar and a thief after he was deprived of three points, divided public opinion and sparked public hostility. Osaka triumphed but both players were in tears by the end of the game.
The long-awaited return – Wimbledon 2022
Amid the retirement rumors, it was cruel to think that the last time Wimbledon would see the great American, she was limping in tears in the first round in 2021 after injuring her ankle.
However, her surprise decision to enter the singles tournament as a wildcard led to late-night tension against France’s Harmony Tan. Williams wowed the crowd and showed all her competitiveness before losing in three sets.
As she left to a standing ovation, she stood and twirled around the stage one last time, something that has brought her and fans so much joy over the years.
There will simply never be another Serena again.
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