Serena Williams is at the twilight of her brilliant tennis career. She stands among history’s most superlative and transcendent athletes. Williams is now 10 weeks away from her 41st birthday, which arrives Sept. 26. Although she has yet to chase down Margaret Court for the most all-time Grand Slam singles titles, Williams’ 23 singles titles are the most in the Open Era.
The Australian, Court, who is 79 now, earned 24 Grand Slam championships from 1960 through 1973, retiring from competitive play in 1977. Her professional career spanned 17 years. Williams turned pro in 1995, one year after older sister Venus Williams made her professional debut. That’s a remarkable 28 years and counting.
Most who follow the sport recognize the younger Williams as the best woman who’s ever played. She is a mother of a precious daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., born in September of 2017. She married Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian two months after the birth of her only child. Tennis, while a deep love and passion, has become less of a priority. Surpassing Court is no longer a singular obsession.
The likelihood of Williams attaining a 24th Grand Slam victory is dubious. Her early exit at this year’s Wimbledon, losing to 24-year-old Harmony Tan of France, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7), in the last week of June, was a reminder of her athletic mortality. It was Williams’ first match in 12 months since she suffered a hamstring injury at last year’s Wimbledon at the venerable All-England Club in London. It was only the second time in Williams’ illustrious career she has been defeated in the first round of a Grand Slam.
“It was definitely a very long battle and fight,” she said after the loss to Tan. “It’s definitely better than last year, that’s a start.”
Next up is the U.S. Open in Queens beginning late next month, a tournament Williams has won six times, but the last coming way back in 2014. She was the runner up in 2018 and 2019. Furthermore, Williams’ resume shows she hasn’t won a Grand Slam since capturing the 2017 Australian Open. Her gradual and natural decline is not a cause for feeling sympathy for Williams, as we often do athletes who stay too long beyond their better days.
Conversely, it is a reason for celebrating a trailblazer, a Black woman raised in the heart of Compton, California—an area characterized as an environment of socio-economic despair. Each time Williams steps onto the court is an occasion to reflect on not only her unparalleled talents, but the explicit racism she and Venus braved and fought as two of tennis’ preeminent figures. We should ponder the Williams sisters authoring arguably the most implausible story in modern sports. Her fashion choices and unapologetic expressions of a body shaped differently than the traditional and narrowly defined American ideal of beauty.
There is so much more, as Serena has side-by-side with Venus been an outspoken advocate for equality in women’s sports, including equal prize money at major tournaments. She doesn’t need any more records to solidify her place in the annals of sports. Serena just needs to go out being Serena.