Serena Williams’s exit was just like her career — a fight to the end

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All the celebrity tributes and voiceover videos are contrived, trashy, and the thunderous applause at Arthur Ashe Stadium is pure roaring waterfall compared to the audience’s praise for Serena Williams. For the greatest women’s tennis player in history, for the valiant sprint to her game and for the breadth of the reign she has now accomplished, it’s all out. There was too much unexpressed emotion behind the yelling and stomping as the 40-year-old made one final spin and wave before leaving.

It’s been a long, sometimes controversial, multi-hurdle journey from perky kid to historic champion, and her presence has radicalized one of the most white and fanatical sports. In 1999, at the age of 17, she won her first U.S. Open title, the beginning of a modern record of 23 majors. She found the very bottom of her competitive spirit and guts on Friday night, just three weeks before her 41st birthday, with a three-set match against her signature ferocity and a series of huge hits on tennis before losing. Yes, if a tiring cut kills five match points in a 7-5, 6-7 (7-4), 6-1 loss to Ajla Tomljanovic, it will almost certainly be her last major. . Just two days ago, she annoyed world No. 2 player Anett Kontaveit.

Retiring from tennis can be complicated, as Serena Williams proves

“I tried,” she said simply afterward.

No one in gaming history, perhaps any game, has ever tried harder or longer.

“I mean, there’s a lot to remember. Like fights. I’m such a fighter. I don’t know,” she said. “I feel like I really brought something to tennis — and brought something. Different looks, fist twitch, crazy intensity. Obviously, I think passion is a really good word.”

A 27-year career is so complex it’s hard to cover. “Her legacy is so extensive that you can’t even describe it in words,” said her rival and friend Naomi Osaka.

Two bracketed images partially illustrate her influence. On Aug. 9, Williams announced her impending retirement or “evolution,” as she called it in a less painful term, in a queen-blue gown with a train, which was featured in the August issue of Vogue magazine. poses solemnly on the cover. Twenty-four years ago, in 1999, the year of Williams’ breakthrough, the Vogue “Cover Girl” of the month was Caroline Murphy, the quintessential tulle, flaxen-haired supermodel, who Wear a size 4. Williams will redefine the power of female beauty with a new template, while ignoring the traditional constraints of tennis and opening it up to a more diverse audience. She has appeared in Vogue four times – the first black female athlete to appear on its page. It’s no small thing for a strong black female athlete to turn this glossy magazine into her home organ. Not to mention the accessories she’s so happily draped over her muscles, even the diamond shell on her boxer’s sneakers.

“I’m grateful that I can have that impact,” she said earlier in the game. “I never thought I’d have this impact, never. I’m just a girl trying to play tennis and that’s when I can develop that impact and be a voice. It’s so real because I do what I do .I just do it in good faith [as] I. I think people can really relate to this. “

Williams’ career on and off the court has been a quest for power — her massive hitting comes with control, a depth of precision that allows her to brush the line. In the ebb and flow of victory, she was unapologetic about her towering temper and tough game and voice and her origins in the barren, broken and strafing public courtroom of Compton, California. I haven’t been through — and I haven’t been through — what I’ve been through,” she said at Wimbledon earlier this summer. “I love who I am. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. “

Anything she does “wrong” or doesn’t fit with tennis tradition is inevitably amplified, criticized or censored. But she didn’t feel intimidated by it, and she went straight to her thoughts on body image, what tennis clothing looks like and how much women can compete. Often, there is subtle pressure on women in the tennis world to keep their ambitions and voices within bounds, silencing them. It was Williams who put her own pressure on tennis with the strength of her competitive personality. She has absorbed all the good points of the tennis world without any of the shortcomings. She avoids the burnout, disappointment and overplaying injuries that plague most young champions.

In the end, she became not only the most enduring champion of the modern era, but the most respected person in the modern era. She’s been adored by Oprah and Queen Latifah over the past week, but she’s been urged by the noise from the crowd that no other champion has ever heard. Even the longest tennis watchers have not heard such applause. “It’s not tennis noise,” commented commentator Mary Carrillo.

The Serena effect has changed every aspect of women’s tennis

Williams could feel the reception in her chest, she said. “There were moments in the game where I couldn’t hear myself hitting the ball,” said her first-round opponent Danka Kovinic.

The climax kept rising when Williams faced off against Tomljanovic. In a match in the second set, she forced her opponent to play for a full 15 minutes to keep her serve. When Williams took that set, she let out a screech of her own throat, so strong that her double flexed.

But in the siege of the final game — a game that lasted 22 points — as the game entered the third hour, she alternated hitting and rushing, and her shot landed like an uppercut in a shocking Tired of mistakes.

The final shot was a tired forehand that clipped the white mesh belt. Suddenly it’s done.

Later, in an on-field interview, she shed tears amid conflicting emotions as she thanked family and friends. “These are tears of happiness – I guess,” she said. “I have no idea.”

Then she thanked the group, who finally learned to appreciate her. “I just want to thank everyone who said ‘Go Serena’ in their lives because you got me here,” she said.

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