Last week saw the end of Serena Williams’ run at the US Open in a loss to Ajla Tomljanovic which marked her final professional appearance on court, following the announcement of her retirement earlier this year.
Although Tomljanovic played brilliantly and earnt herself a well-deserved victory, this has been understandably overshadowed by Serena’s retirement. Despite playing well and showing glimpses of her younger self, there is no denying that her era of domination is well in the past and as her career comes to an end, it is worth looking back on her incredible journey in tennis.
Although in their youth her sister Venus was the stronger of the pair in tennis, Serena thrived as an underdog and found more success in professional tennis. Serena won her first singles title at the 1999 US Open and from the 2002 French Open to the 2003 Australian Open she dominated, winning all four major singles titles against Venus in each of these finals. Serena claimed two more single majors in the following few years, but she suffered from a torn quadricep tendon which kept her from playing her best until 2007 when, despite continued injuries, she reclaimed the world No. 1 singles ranking. It was not until the 2012 Wimbledon Championships that she returned to the level of dominance established in 2002. Serena finished the year with an Olympic gold and became the first tennis player to achieve a career Golden Slam in both singles and doubles, marking her as a level above her competitors.
Looking at her career, it comes as no surprise that she is considered as the greatest of all time by many. Not only did she surpass Graf’s record, winning 23 singles majors but she dominated in an unprecedented way, coining the term ‘the Serena Slam’ for holding all Grand Slam titles simultaneously as well as being one of only six women to complete a career Grand Slam. She won eight singles majors (four in a row from 2014-15, achieving a second Serena Slam) and won her 23rd major singles title at the 2017 Australian Open, surpassing Steffi Graf’s Open Era record, cementing her as one of the best, if not the best, to play of all time. She then took a break after becoming pregnant, but this has not stopped her and since her return to the sport she has reached four major finals.
In order to truly appreciate her dominance, however, her unparalleled playstyle must be noted. Her strength was simply unmatched, allowing her to play an aggressive baseline game centred around her serve and powerful groundstrokes. Her fastest serve was 128.6 mph and her average serve speed was 106 mph, often exceeding many of her male counterparts as well as equalling Nadal’s in the Australian Open.
Her impressive ability in tennis extends beyond these statistics; her mental fortitude through injury, motherhood and business while playing professional tennis at the highest level enabled her to dominate on and off the court. In multiple finals Serena has saved two or more match points to then win the game, showing the impressive determination she has. Despite having had a torn quadricep tendon, a hematoma, and a pulmonary embolism she then went on to win a second career grand slam and a golden slam which not only shows not only her physical prowess but also her mental strength. If the injuries were not the most difficult struggle for her to overcome during her time as a player, certainly pregnancy was.
In April 2017, Serena revealed that she was five months pregnant, making her victory in the Australian Open final all the more impressive. After giving birth in September and suffering a pulmonary embolism leaving her bedridden for six weeks, Serena played her first match since giving birth in December, demonstrating uncanny recovery.
In addition to her incredible persistence through injury and pregnancy, Serena pursued her own interests outside of tennis. Instantly recognisable on court due to her unconventionally colourful outfits, fashion became an identifiable characteristic of Serena, talked about and scrutinised constantly by the media. Rather than shying away from the public eye, she seized the opportunity signing a US$40 million deal for a line with Nike before going on to run her own line of apparel, “Aneres”. As well as fashion, Serena has been the CSO of Aston Martin since June 2015 and is on the board of directors at Momentive Incorporated. Her ability to perform at a top level whilst balancing all her other interests and creating a name for herself outside of tennis sets her apart from her peers.
Although her career titles speak for themselves, anyone who witnessed Serena play on the court can recognise that she was a level above everyone she faced. The fact she managed to dominate while balancing her other pursuits off the court makes it clear she is one of the greatest to play tennis. When comparing to her male counterparts, the superiority that Serena has in women’s tennis is emphasised. There is a constantly debate about who between Nadal, Federer and Djokovic is the best or most dominant, no one during Serena’s time playing comes as close to her level of dominance, cementing in her place in the history of tennis.