Serena’s last serve: The end of an era

Prior to Serena Williams’ rise to fame, U.S. women’s tennis could be described as a dainty, all-white, and primarily wealthy game. Williams helped to revolutionize the sport; moving around the court with speed and immense athleticism, she hit serves at over 100 mph and returned shots with technical strength. Other tennis players were forced to adjust their style of play if they wished to stand a chance against Williams’ pace and ferocity. On Friday, September 2nd, this radical career came to an end.  

Williams competed in her final professional match at the 2022 U.S. Open. “I was like wow, it’s kind of time because she has done everything,” said Pippa Solmssen ‘23, captain of the Urban girl’s varsity tennis team. 

In Williams’ farewell feature in “Vogue”, she said, “maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution.” Over the course of a nearly 30-year-long career, Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles, the 23rd of which she won 20 weeks pregnant, four Olympic gold medals and countless other achievements. Williams said “[she is] evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important.”

Throughout her career, the energy that Williams brought to the court caught the public’s attention. Her growing popularity brought an influx of crowds to the matches, increasing support for this previously disregarded female sport. Marcus Steinbach, the girl’s and boy’s head tennis coach at Urban believes the U.S. Open changed the format for the women’s finals due to Williams’ popularity. Prior to Williams, the women’s final was played in between the more popular men’s events, but now it is played on Saturday evening and the men’s final is played Sunday evening. “[The U.S. Open] capitalized on the interest in the game,” said Steinbach.

A few years after this schedule alteration, Williams and her sister Venus Williams competed against each other in the first-ever prime–time women’s final at the U.S. Open in 2001, adding to the increasing appeal of women’s tennis. Williams went on to win six U.S. Open titles and accomplish numerous other milestones at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.  “It captured the whole tennis world,” said Steinbach. “[Serena] has been such an inspiration to fans all over the world. But her first big breakthrough was in New York at the U.S. Open, her first Grand Slam.”

As a star athlete who was trained almost entirely by her father, Serena demonstrated that elite trainers are not needed to win the game. She also proved that there was a place for Black women in tennis, eternally diversifying the sport.

  “She’s very inspirational and a very hardworking woman,” said Kiley Pratt ‘23 “I love the amount of recognition she’s getting because I feel like the athletes who are in headlines and talked about the most are male.” 

In Vogue, Williams reflected on her career, specifically what drives her success on and off the court. She said she has always strived to be what perfect meant to her. She has always been persistent, and she never would have attained such greatness without this determination. Williams said, “to me that’s kind of the essence of being Serena: expecting the best from myself and proving people wrong.”