Serena Williams’s unmatchable game

Serena Williams
Serena Williams AP PHOTO -

IN THE history of tennis, no one has achieved what Serena Williams has.

No one else has won a career golden slam – winning every major tournament in both singles and doubles. No one has won more titles in the modern, “Open” era. No one has won more on hard courts. She is the only player, male or female, to win three of the four Grand Slams at least half a dozen times.

In 2018, Roger Federer said Ms Williams had the best case for being named the greatest tennis player of all time. She’s won more than even him.

And up until Tuesday, it looked very likely that Ms Williams, 40, might continue to win, despite recent setbacks.

Instead, she’s announced her retirement, heralding the close of an unprecedented chapter not only in tennis, but in global sport.

But Ms Williams’s achievement extends beyond statistics. Along with her sister Venus, she inspired generations of black players who might not have felt playing tennis professionally was within reach, and started a conversation about race in sport long before the Black Lives Matter movement.

For instance, in the early part of her career in the 1990s, Ms Williams was subject to intense scrutiny about things like the hair beads she wore on court, the colour of her outfits, the shape and fit of her clothes. If race was not necessarily the overt motivation behind such commentary, it certainly lay behind much of the criticism levied at her for the apparent sin of having a fit body and using it.

If she chafed against the boundaries imposed by race, Ms Williams also helped reorient the perception of what is expected of a female tennis player. While powerful serves and athleticism on court were de rigueur for male players of a certain generation (many of whom made testosterone-fuelled on-court rants into an art), women players were apparently expected to subscribe to different rules.

Ms Williams did not get the memo. Hers was a game defined by what is considered the most powerful serve in tennis history, and by an artful combination of strategy, stealth and an ability to use the entire court while showing poise under pressure.

Because sport is seldom just about sport, this means Ms Williams also stood for the simple notion that there is nothing contradictory about the idea of someone being both feminine and powerful. It was a subliminal message that sometimes rose to the fore through her campaigning to have women players win the same prize money as men.

After the curtains do come down on her career, perhaps at the US Open later this month, as she has suggested, it is unlikely we will see a tennis star blaze so brightly again.


"Serena Williams’s unmatchable game"

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