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Serena Williams and her Everlasting Legacy

Serena Williams in action at Wimbledon in 2020.

Now that the dust has settled, following Serena Williams’ dramatic exit at the US Open, it is an apt time to look past the trophies and accolades that have come to define her legacy. Her retirement has robbed us of one of the all-time greats whose back story is the stuff of legend. We will examine how this rough diamond was molded into a world-beater who transcended her sport and whose legacy far outreaches her dominance on the court.

Her Grand Slam tally of 23 quickly puts her amongst the most outstanding women’s players ever. Only Margaret Court’s record of 24 Majors is comparable. However, there were fewer competitors, the quality of which could also be questioned. Indeed, one could argue that in the following eras of Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and the German prodigy, Steffi Graf, tennis was far more competitive, taking the game to unprecedented levels.

Humble Beginnings 

The biopic King Richard chronicles the journey of the Williams family into tennis royalty. It is an entertaining and engaging film that glosses over much of their early struggles. The mean streets of Compton in the early nineties were not for the faint-hearted. Richard Williams had to navigate gang culture, drug fiends, and the total disregard of his community which viewed tennis as an elitist sport.

The senior Williams persevered in spite of numerous stumbling blocks, juggling multiple jobs to keep the family afloat. His vision for his daughters seemed like a distant fairytale. The criticism of his methods or the suitability of his offspring to the genteel game of tennis merely strengthened his resolve. This included the subtle and overt racism the family had to endure, as they competed on the junior tennis circuit. A normal parent might have just thrown in the towel. Richard Williams would not be underestimated or ignored.

Venus Williams – the trendsetter

Venus broke through first, destroying the stereotypes and narratives that their much-maligned father routinely rallied against. It was a breath of fresh air for the women’s game. The global community feted the power and talent of the elder Williams sister. Serena was content in her big sister’s shadow as Venus provided the perfect blueprint for her sibling. However, the prediction of Richard Williams that Serena would eventually surpass the achievements of Venus, proved surprisingly prescient.

Serena was peerless, at her peak, on the WTA Tour. A ferocious serve, punishing groundstrokes off either side, and supreme athleticism made her one of the most dominant players in any era.

Her everlasting legacy

Serena’s career statistics certainly embellish this dominance. Her role as a cultural icon is often overlooked, however. Serena and certainly Venus made a stand against maintaining the status quo: a subtle tactic aimed at excluding others based on the historic legacy. They pushed back against this all too familiar rhetoric that had become part and parcel of the American psyche. The siblings struck a decisive blow against all those critics who celebrated Uncle Sam’s divisive past and the scars of slavery and racism which still pervades to this day.

Serena was living proof that hard work and determination, trumped circumstance and bigotry. She was a beacon of hope for millions across the globe, with her ability to dominate the game. It was certainly a factor in the emergence of non-White players on the WTA tour. Naomi Osaka, Madison Keys, Coco Gauff, and Sloane Stephens to name but a few, would have eventually broken through, given their talent. But we must not underestimate Serena’s role. She gave a voice to millions looking for guidance. This might supersede all her on-court achievements.

The future post-tennis looks bright for Serena. Multifaceted, she has made inroads in both fashion and business. Her greatest achievement though was being the benchmark of excellence. There will never be another Serena, and rightly so.

Main Photo from Getty.


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