In the first days of September in New York, first-round matches of the U.S. Open were packed with fans, and millions of people tuned in for her final sprint, hit, and iconic victory twirl and wave. In August 2022, Williams announced that she would put her racket down after the U.S. Open, the final tournament of her illustrious career.
Serena Williams, however, was more than an incredible tennis player. For female athletes, she became an icon, and for the Black community especially, a symbol of strength, power, and grace in a white-dominated sport. She will be remembered for her determination and fearlessness, as she defied the odds in a sport that failed to welcome her.
In 1998, Serena and her sister, Venus, began to catch eyes with their immense talent. However, both sisters received criticism for their unique playing styles. While gifted with technical ability, their explosive speed and athleticism were highly unusual in the sport. Venus has one of the highest serve speeds at 129 mph, with her sister close behind at 128.6.
Everything about the two sisters was unconventional for tennis in the late nineties, from their bodies to their clothing, and especially the color of their skin. They were outliers. They were different. Before the Williams sisters, women’s tennis was soft, quiet, and primarily white. Serena challenged this image of all of that. She was loud, fierce, fast, and she was Black. She also rejected the norm of the tennis “body type.” Typically, tennis players were lean and thin with non-muscular arms. Serena entered the court with her powerfully muscular and perhaps “un-feminine” arms and stood tall at her height of five-foot-nine. She showed the world that strength is not something to be ashamed of or to hide. She showed the world that it, in fact, gave her an advantage and went on to win thirty-nine major titles since 1999, twenty-three in singles, two in mixed doubles, and fourteen in women’s doubles where she plays with Venus.
Serene will be remembered for her willpower and charge toward victory year in and year out. Her screams still echo on the court. As Serena said herself, “Overpower. Overtake. Overcome.”