Elliott: Serena Williams embarks on final Grand Slam with peerless legacy: ‘An icon of icons’

Serena Williams hits a backhand throughout her match in opposition to Emma Raducanu on the Western & Southern Open on Aug. 16. Williams embarks on what is predicted to be the ultimate Grand Slam of her record-breaking profession on the U.S. Open on Monday. (Aaron Doster / Related Press)

If this U.S. Open is the finale of Serena Williams’ pace-setting profession, there’s nowhere higher for her to say goodbye than at Flushing Meadows, the place she gave discover in 1999 that she was not like anybody girls’s tennis had ever seen.

Not fairly 18, sporting an air of ferocity and white beads in her braided hair, she introduced a potent mix of energy and aggressiveness to the courtroom. It wasn’t that she served huge, she served to win the purpose, to not arrange a rally. She hit laborious, and with a goal.

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Williams beat top-ranked Martina Hingis within the remaining to win the primary of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles. At her peak she was invincible, surpassing her idol, older sister Venus. In going from ragged courts in Compton to the highest of the luxury tennis world, they opened doorways to a sport that had been hostile to the few Black gamers who preceded them. They advocated for equal pay for girls and rewrote the unofficial guidelines.

“All it’s worthwhile to say about Serena is that she’s put herself in that pantheon of G.O.A.Ts of G.O.A.Ts,” John McEnroe mentioned, referring to athletes judged the best of all time of their sports activities.

“She’s up there with Billie Jean King. Muhammad Ali. Michael Jordan. Tom Brady. That’s the place Serena is. She’s turn out to be like an icon of icons.”

The Open will start Monday with all eyes on Serena, who not too long ago advised Vogue journal she’s “evolving away from tennis” as she nears her forty first birthday. A six-time champion in New York, she’s going to face Eightieth-ranked Danka Kovinic of Montenegro on Monday night time at Arthur Ashe Stadium. As well as, the Williams sisters will pair up for first time in additional than 4 years after accepting a wild-card doubles entry.

Williams, who ended a year-long damage absence by dropping within the first spherical at Wimbledon, is 1-3 this yr and ranked No. 410 on the planet. She has mentioned she desires one other baby however doesn’t wish to play whereas pregnant, as she did whereas successful the 2017 Australian Open, her most up-to-date Slam singles title. Her daughter, Alexis Olympia, is sort of 5.

Williams won’t equal or cross Margaret Court docket’s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, however that’s virtually irrelevant due to Williams’ immeasurable influence on the courtroom and past.

“She revolutionized tennis,” mentioned retired star Chris Evert, now an ESPN commentator. “I really feel like she actually impressed girls of colour as a result of we’ve seen much more girls of colour taking part in the sport and I believe that she’s modified the best way girls compete so far as it’s OK to be ferocious and passionate and vocal on the market, emotional on the market on the courtroom, and nonetheless be a lady, not take away from being a lady.”

Serena Williams hits a serve during a match.
Serena Williams’ farewell to tennis on the U.S. Open might be lengthy or brief relying on how nicely she fares within the singles and doubles tournaments. (Seth Wenig / Related Press)

It is powerful to say whether or not Williams’ farewell will probably be lengthy or brief. She may defeat Kovinic and romp by the underside of the draw. Her lack of match sharpness may journey her up in opposition to Kovinic or in opposition to possible second-round opponent Anett Konteveit, the No. 2 seed.

Ladies’s tennis has turn out to be unpredictable with out domination by Venus, 42, or Serena. World No. 1 Ash Barty surprisingly retired after successful the Australian Open. Emma Raducanu has struggled since her shock U.S. Open win final yr and has a difficult begin in opposition to Alize Cornet. Naomi Osaka, who received two of her 4 Slam singles titles on the U.S. Open, has confronted psychological well being points and accidents and is No. 44 on the planet. Iga Swiatek succeeded Barty as No. 1 and cemented that with a 37-match win streak, however she went 2-2 in a pair of hardcourt Open warmup occasions.

Floridian Coco Gauff, 18, has pretty much as good an opportunity as anybody to win at Flushing Meadows. In a pre-tournament interview she mentioned she has discovered greater than techniques from Williams.

Typically being a lady, a Black lady on the planet, you type of accept much less. I really feel like Serena taught me that, from watching her, she by no means settled for much less,” mentioned Gauff, who’s seeded No. 12.

Venus, who has received Wimbledon 5 instances and the U.S. Open twice, is winless this yr and ranked No. 1,445. She hasn’t mentioned if retirement is on her radar too, however it could actually’t be far off. A wild-card entrant, she’s scheduled to face Alison Van Uytvanck on Tuesday.

Early losses in New York wouldn’t diminish the Williams sisters’ influence.

Venus, left, and Serena Williams smile during a news conference at the 1998 Australian Open.
Venus, left, and Serena Williams smile throughout a information convention on the 1998 Australian Open. (Steve Holland / Related Press)
Venus, left, and Serena Williams talk during a doubles match at the French Open in 2018.
Venus, left, and Serena Williams speak throughout a doubles match on the French Open in 2018. (Christophe Ena / Related Press)

“Serena fought for us. She’s set out a superb path for the entire WTA gamers, even the ATP gamers, to succeed in their very own targets, voice their ideas, hold combating for what they imagine in,” 2021 U.S. Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez mentioned of the ladies’s and males’s professional excursions. “I believe it’s a good way to go away the game. She’s only a legend.”

The boys’s competitors is very notable for who received’t be taking part in.

Roger Federer (20 Slam singles titles) is recovering from knee surgical procedure. Alexander Zverev, who misplaced final yr‘s remaining to Daniil Medvedev, has an ankle damage. Novak Djokovic (21 Slams) wasn’t allowed to enter america as a foreigner who hasn’t been vaccinated in opposition to the coronavirus. He additionally was barred from getting into Australia for the Australian Open in January. Earlier than Djokovic withdrew Thursday, McEnroe known as his exclusion “a joke,” however Djokovic’s refusal to be vaccinated may value him the Slam singles document.

No. 1 seed Medvedev will probably be again. So will Rafael Nadal, who’s making an attempt to increase his males’s document of twenty-two Slam singles titles. Nadal misplaced the primary two units to Medvedev on the Australian Open however got here again for a surprising win; he went on to beat Djokovic and Casper Ruud to earn his record-extending 14th straight French Open title however withdrew earlier than his Wimbledon semifinal due to an belly tear. “We are able to by no means write him off,” McEnroe mentioned of Nadal, nonetheless taking part in all-out at 36.

Evert recalled considering tennis was doomed when rock star-like Bjorn Borg retired in 1981, however new personalities and stars emerged to interact followers. The Williams sisters will probably be adopted however received’t get replaced. Do not be unhappy once they depart. Be glad they left tennis higher than once they discovered it.

“Serena’s timing is ideal,” Evert mentioned. “I believe this can be a nice method to exit, if she goes out.”

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