As the curtains draw to a close on the legendary career of Serena Williams, it’s time to reflect on the wild journey she’s taken us on through the decades.
Serena Williams is a name that rings a bell to just about anybody who doesn’t live under a rock. The impact of her legacy from a young Black girl from Compton to the highest-earning female athlete of all time has touched the hearts of many people all over the world. Today, she is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time, particularly in the modern era of tennis.
How it all began
Introduced to tennis by her father Richard Williams in 1985, Serena Williams first stepped on the court at the age of four years old. She was home-schooled by her father during childhood, who had big dreams and a definite plan for his daughter’s success. Before Serena Williams made the solo leap to the top of the tennis world, she was following in the footsteps of her older sister Venus Williams, who entered professional tennis ahead of her.
In a time when racism against Blacks was still quite prominent in society, the Williams sisters needed to grow up fast and develop a tough mentality early on. This was especially true having grown up in Compton, California, where gang-related crime was a daily occurrence. Fortunately, the Williams family would relocate to Florida upon Serena turning nine years old, where the sisters attended their first tennis academy under coach Rick Macci.
A lesson in family values
Instead of leaving his daughters’ futures in the hands of their coaches and academies, Richard Williams kept a firm grip on his family and slowed things down a notch. Serena and Venus Williams often attribute much of their worldly success to the guidance from their father, and this was one of the most important lessons they would take with them. As young children who sought after success, the life lessons and morals Richard would impose on his daughters were often met by friction and conflicts of interest, including resistance from his wife at the time Oracene Price.
Nevertheless, as the girls matured into young women, they would take on their father’s teachings of family values as they learned to understand their importance in shaping their futures. At the request of their father, Serena and Venus Williams were disallowed from participating in professional tennis tournaments until they were 16 years old. Instead, they would focus on their education and schooling while taking the pressure off their young minds and bodies, allowing them to continue to mature before taking on the world.
Another important lesson that Richard would always enforce was one of sibling love and friendship. He would always encourage Serena and Venus to be there for each other and taught them to be each other’s “best friends.” This bond allowed the sisters to push each other during practice and to lift each other up throughout their careers. Without a doubt, the strong bond formed between Serena and Venus Williams would play a huge role in their careers once they were on their own to take on the world.
Making her mark in history
The influence and support of her family were key factors in Serena Williams’ success as a professional athlete, but no one could prepare the world for the heights she ultimately reached. Winning her first Grand Slam at the 1999 US Open and the rest of her 23 Grand Slam total in the 2000s and 2010s, Williams was ushering in a new era of tennis alongside Venus. As the sport transitioned from heavy wooden racquets and “serve & volley” style to lighter racquets and aggressive baseline rallies, the Williams sisters were leading the charge with their superb athleticism and competitive spirit.
Perhaps the most iconic rivalry in the history of women’s tennis was that of Serena and Venus Williams. Having played a total of 30 professional matches, the Williams sisters would meet in four consecutive Grand Slam finals beginning with the 2002 French Open. Throughout their rivalry, Serena showed that she had a slight edge over Venus, besting her sister in 18 out of their 30 encounters.
Above all, the factor that truly separated Serena from her sister Venus was the winning head-to-heads she achieved over the best tennis players in the world at the time. Whether it was Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati, or Justine Henin, the 23-time Grand Slam champion would always lead the rivalry in match wins. As the younger talents started to rise, Serena Williams continued to dominate each rival even more than the last, leading 20-2 in her head-to-head with Maria Sharapova and 18-5 against Victoria Azarenka.
An unforgettable story
Serena Williams caps off an incredible career with 23 major singles titles, 14 major doubles titles, 319 weeks at world number one, and numerous Olympic gold medals across singles and doubles. With the 2022 US Open just around the corner, she will compete on the hard courts of New York, the tournament where she won her maiden Grand Slam on home soil back in 1999. Since announcing her retirement, US Open ticket sales have skyrocketed as the world gathers to see Serena Williams, the greatest player of modern tennis, swing her racquet one last time.