US Open 2022: Serena Williams

US Open 2022: Serena Williams ends career with third round loss, but her tennis legacy will only grow
Serena Williams, the icon, the legend, the GOAT, lost in the third round round of the US Open, marking her final match as a professional tennis player.

Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic beat Williams on Friday night in a thrilling battle, 7-5, 6-7 (7-4), 6-1, at Arthur Ashe Stadium. The three-hour match had a wild, lengthy comeback that ended with a heated tiebreak in the second set before Tomljanovic finally closed out the match in the third, ending what will go down as one of the best, and most-watched, matches of the tournament.

Williams got emotional on her way off the court. She cried “happy tears, I guess” in her on-court postmatch interview as she thanked her parents and her sister, Venus.

“Thank you so much, you guys were amazing today. I wish I played a little bit better. Thank you daddy, I know you’re watching. Thanks mom,” Williams said on the court. “I just thank everyone that’s here, that’s been on my side so many years, decades. Oh my gosh, literally decades. But it all started with my parents, and they deserve everything, so I’m really grateful for them.

“These are happy tears, I guess! I don’t know. And I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t Venus, so thank you Venus.”

After dropping a close opening set, Williams went up 4-0 in the second set and seemed poised to force a third. Yet Tomljanovic won four straight games to close out the first set, powering her way through to force a tiebreak. She nearly won it, too, but Williams escaped with the 7-4 win to extend the match to a third set.

Though Williams jumped up 1-0 with a break in the final set, she dropped the next two quickly and seemed exhausted after more than 2 1/2 hours on the court. Tomljanovic rolled from there, even with seemingly the entire stadium against her, to take the final set and advance into the fourth round while simultaneously ending Williams’ career.

“I’m feeling really sorry, just because I love Serena just as much as you guys do and what she’s done for me, for the sport of tennis is incredible,” Tomljanovic said after her win. “I never thought that I’d have a chance to play her in her last match when I remember watching her as a kid in all those finals. This is a surreal moment for me.”

As for Williams’ future plans, she didn’t close the door on playing again.

“I don’t think so but you never know,” she said when asked if she’ll come back. “I don’t know.”

Williams is more than this one loss
A loss like this isn’t how Williams wanted to end her career, but this is not what she’ll be remembered for. Her career is too incredible, too important for any one moment to define her.

Williams first picked up a tennis racket at age 3 (though she says it was 18 months), and in a way, her fate was sealed from there. As the younger sister of fellow tennis legend Venus Williams, she spent time watching Venus play, and succeed, and fail, all while she waited in the shadows, learning everything she could from what she saw.

Venus came into the spotlight first, but Serena followed close behind. She officially arrived in 1999, winning the US Open, then in 2002-2003 achieved a feat that is now called the Serena Slam: Holding all four Grand Slam titles at the same time over two calendar years. She won the 2002 French Open, the 2002 Wimbledon title, the 2002 US Open, and the 2003 Australian Open. In each of those finals, she had to beat her own sister to win the trophy. Williams would again win the Serena Slam in 2014-2015.

She never managed to achieve a calendar Slam (winning all four majors in the same year), but she became the first tennis player in history to achieve a Career Golden Slam (winning all four majors and the Olympic gold medal) in singles and doubles. Williams is so dominant in singles that her doubles career, playing alongside Venus, is often forgotten. As a doubles team, they remain undefeated in Grand Slam finals, winning 14 and never losing a single one.

In all, Williams spent 319 weeks as the WTA’s No. 1 tennis player in the world. Only Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova spent more time at the top than she did. While she often chose to focus on Grand Slams instead of playing extensively on the WTA tour, she still won 73 singles titles, which ranks her fifth all-time in women’s tennis history. She captured 23 Grand Slam titles, the most in the Open Era, and one behind Margaret Court for the all-time record.

Breaking boundaries led to support and criticism
While Williams was good, there was more to her than that, making headlines and turning heads in a way that transcended tennis and athletics in general. She was daring and bold, not caring about the norms for female tennis players. She wore outfits that no one had ever seen on a tennis court, sporting bright colors, catsuits and tutus. She wore her hair any way she wanted, in braids, beads, straight and natural. She showed off her body with pride, refusing to hide the muscles she worked so hard for. She became a fashion icon, appearing by herself on the cover of Vogue, designing multiple clothing lines, and becoming a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.

At the same time, there were few athletes who inspired such passion from the public — both for and against her. She was criticized for her hair and tennis outfits. She was criticized for being too muscular and too loud when she played. She was criticized for bringing the discussion of race into tennis. Williams wasn’t a perfect player, and she’s not a perfect human, so some criticisms were earned — like when she was called out for being too selfish and combative after her extended on-court argument with the chair umpire during the 2018 US Open women’s final against Naomi Osaka, which she lost.

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