Saying Goodbye to Serena: Reflecting on Williams’ Legacy


Photo Courtesy of Christopher Katsarov

Serena Williams competes at the National Bank Open tennis tournament in 2022.

On Sept. 2, Serena Williams’ 27-year tennis career most likely came to a close in a loss to Ajla Tomljanović at the third round of the US Open in the most watched tennis match in ESPN’s history. Williams, who announced her “evolution” from tennis in an essay for Vogue, did not give a specific date for when she would be stepping away from the court but nonetheless has received countless tributes after the game, including an unprecedented on-court postgame interview. 

The world has watched Williams grow from a kid training under her sister’s shadow in Compton, California, to one of the most decorated tennis players in history, winning 23 Grand Slam singles, four Olympic medals, and 73 career singles titles. She won over $94 million in prize money, the most won by any female tennis player in history. Williams became known for achieving two Grand Slams, winning the Australian Open, Wimbledon, Roland-Garros, and the US Open consecutively both in the 2002-03 and 2014-15 seasons in what came to be known as a “Serena Slam.”

However, Williams has impacted the world in more than the records, titles, and medals that she won. She has remained unapologetically confident in herself and her abilities no matter what people had to say, despite the racism, sexism, and transphobia she faced throughout her career. In a tennis world of dress codes and conformity, she stood out for her unique sense of style, wearing everything including catsuits, trenchcoats, and diamonds. Off the court, she was outspoken about issues that she was passionate about. She wrote a candid op-ed about her near-death experience during childbirth to call attention to the higher risk Black women face while pregnant and consistently advocated for fair pay in tennis. 

Anna Pastore, a second-year tennis player, has fond memories of watching Williams play on TV when she was younger. She is one of many who was inspired by Serena’s tenacity and perseverance. 

“It wasn’t just the tennis, it was the way she carried herself and the way she always stood up for herself, even though the media was always really polarized about her,” Pastore said. “I wanted to be…a person like her.”

In addition, both Serena and her older sister Venus Williams not only entered but also dominated a sport that is predominantly wealthy and white, both on the playing field and in the audience. She has been credited with inspiring more Black tennis players to join the sport, where participation increased by 44 percent between 2019 and 2021, according to an analysis by Sports Marketing Surveys. Black players such as Frances Tiafoe, Coco Gauff, and Naomi Osaka have thanked Williams after their games in the US Open this year, saying that they never would’ve picked up a racket if it wasnít for her. 

“She is a woman who looks like me, and has achieved awards, statuses and titles that no one else ever has,” third-year and Black Student Athlete Group co-chair Alyson Jefferson wrote in an email to the Review. “To athletes of color, she shows us that our skin color doesn’t slow us down or makes us less [than] anyone else; if anything it makes us stand out more.”

Fourth-year volleyball player and track thrower Iyanna Lewis shared similar sentiments to Jefferson and is thankful to Williams for the representation of Black women in sports. 

“I’m not someone who follows tennis closely, but I always paid attention whenever she played,” Lewis wrote in an email to the Review. “I’m grateful that she paved the way for Black female athletes, particularly in predominantly white sports, because it has opened the doors for so many other athletes that look like me.”

After tennis, Williams is hoping to continue raising a family and working on her capital firm, Serena Ventures. Pastore is glad Williams will have the time to find her own path and start a new journey. 

“I think that with professional athletes, we get so caught up in sensationalizing them and valuing them only by what they do as a sport,” Pastore said. “Obviously I don’t want her to retire, but I think it sends an important message that even the best need a break, even if it’s a permanent break.”

Williams will forever be remembered as one of the best tennis players of all time in both accomplishments and advocacy. No tribute, memorial, or interview can ever fully encapsulate the indelible impact that she made for generations of athletes. Thank you, Serena.