US Open: the last dance of Serena Williams, the modern beacon of tennis who changed paradigms and showed an eloquent love of competition

NEW YORK.– When it became known that the US Open It would be the last performance as a professional of a racket legend who broke obstacles of all kinds like Serena Williamsthe effect was similar to that of a tsunami. The description, published by The New York Times, was exaggerated, of course, but sought the impact to define the career of the youngest of the Williams sisters. Like Venus, the other member of the clan, Serena's emergence was due to the work and magic of the tenacity –and optimism– of Richard, the goldsmith from Compton County, who did everything in his power –and more– to get their daughters became much more than symbols in a sport that, with few exceptions, was designed for white athletes.

Even though more than two decades have passed, it still echoes in Arthur Ashe Stadium that night on Saturday, September 11, 1999, when Serena, just 17 years old, defeated Switzerland's Martina Hingis to win the first of her 23 singles titles. Grand Slam. It would take several seasons for that "fairy tale" and sacrifice to become a cinematographic success as it was. Rey Richard, the feature film centered on the Williams' mentor (played by Will Smith). But enough to know that his forecasts (despite the fact that, at first, many looked at him skeptically) were already a reality. The story goes that the Williams' father was inspired by seeing Romanian Virginia Ruzici get a check at a tournament in Austria in 1985, when his daughters had not yet played tennis: that action, which he followed closely on TV, would become the carrot that he chased to emerge to the whole world from that humble Californian county.

Serena Williams in her last match as a professional, at the US OpenJohn Minchillo - AP

Serena, like Venus, ends up being more than just the successor to Althea Gibson, the African-American tennis player who shone in the 1950s (and who has a monument in the US Open complex). With aggressive tennis, the sisters transformed women's tennis in every way. Serena, punctually the owner of a remarkable serve and forceful and overflowing groundstrokes, became a beacon of modern tennis and was able to change paradigms for more than 25 years. Since her arrival, strength was an attribute not only reserved for men. She was an advance guard, then, to leave itching aside and be a champion of beneficial changes for society in these times.

Martin Blackman, general manager of development of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and a former professional tennis player, put it very well before AFP: “I am an African-American man. When I saw Serena and Venus level up and saw them confident and comfortable in their skin, I understood that they were really grounded, really safe. That was a shock to the established tennis society. African American girls wearing braids, being themselves, unapologetically. I think there was some resistance at first. But for them to do that he sent a message to all diverse people, regardless of whether they're black, Hispanic, gay or lesbian, that you can succeed by being yourself."

The love of the game and competition, summed up in Serena Williams
The love of the game and competition, summed up in Serena WilliamsJohn Minchillo - AP

Unlike her older sister, Serena knew how to capitalize on other issues beyond tennis to become a broad reference in this sport. It was so, since that conquest of hers in Flushing Meadows 1999, there was not a US Open in which her clothing was not a focus of attention. Her investments, her love for acting and clothing design, and even the decision to become a mother (Olympia, 4 years old) in full competition, gave her a freshness of everyday life unusual for an activity –many times– so suffocating Of course, that transformed the two sisters into a unique and difficult model to replicate: as much as others have wanted to try, no one until now has been able to repeat the phenomenon of the Williams sisters. The little book strategy used by Richard was only successful for his daughters. Why? Perhaps because the family and peer competition, as in other cases in this sport, managed to enhance the effect. There was no Pete Sampras without Andre Agassi, Roger Federer without Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, Martina Navratilova without Chris Evert. Serena and Venus would never have been the same if they hadn't burst in hand in hand.

Serena was also a pioneer in laying the foundations of what she felt and projected for her life as a strong-willed female athlete. She was able to boycott the important Indian Wells tournament, in the California where she was born as a tennis player, knowing that racial insults were heard when she played. But she was the same she who was able to come back many years later to close some wounds and explain to everyone about forgiveness and new opportunities.

Serena Williams' thanks to the public at the Arthur Ashe
Serena Williams' thanks to the public at the Arthur AsheCharles Krupa - AP

Of an indomitable character, he had no qualms about expressing his repudiation when the Portuguese umpire Mariana Alves "stole" a point from his face in the 2004 US Open quarterfinals against Jennifer Capriati, an event that led to his elimination from the tournament. Or, going out of his mind in 2018, during the final of the same tournament with Naomi Osaka, with the scandal before the also Portuguese umpire Carlos Ramos, whom he accused of being a thief and a liar for his failures. Her episode in the semifinals of the 2009 US Open, against Belgium's Kim Clijsters, was rudely famous, when a line judge charged her with a foot fault and threatened her: “I'm going to kill you”. Nobody is perfect, but these reactions served, in a certain way, to understand the degree of intensity with which she lived.

"It wouldn't have been Serena if there hadn't been Venus"

Serena Williams

Serena became a schism for tennis. She did not have the total number of titles of Navratilova (167) or Steffi Graf (107); she stayed at 73 conquests. But her greatest solidity was experienced in the Grand Slam tournaments, with seven titles won at the Australian Open, three at Roland Garros, seven at Wimbledon and six at the US Open (plus ten other finals), which add up to 23 and place her as the second best in history in that category behind the Australian Margaret Court (24; although won in other times; approximately half of those victories occurred in the amateur era, before 1968).

Serena also won 14 major women's doubles titles, all of them with her sister as a partner (they never lost in a Grand Slam final playing together). She also has two Grand Slam trophies in mixed doubles (with Max Mirnyi) and, with four performances at the Olympics, she's won gold in singles once (at London 2012) and three times in doubles. In addition, she achieved almost US$95 million in official tournament prize money (multiplied by the various commercial contracts) and reached 319 weeks at number 1 (58 less than Graf).

“He is at the height of Michael Jordan, of LeBron James, of Tom Brady. She is one of the great athletes in history. Everything he has done to be where he is is impressive; is exactly where it deserves. She is an extraordinary tennis player, but above all she is an icon, ”said New Yorker John McEnroe.

The last dance of the professional tennis player Serena was, how could it be otherwise, at the US Open, in an Arthur Ashe full of personalities, under an electric and exciting atmosphere. The victory of the Australian Ajla Tomljanović (46th) by 7-5, 6-7 (4-7) and 6-1, in three hours and five minutes, for the third round, was just a detail. Even with her physical limitations, but with a moving self-esteem and against a rival who had ups and downs but competed very seriously, Serena managed to give away spectacular moments and rallies that, at times, made her mentally go back in time. Williams closed her individual career with 857 hits and 157 losses.

Serena Williams, a legend that says goodbye to the sport
Serena Williams, a legend that says goodbye to the sportJohn Minchillo - AP

Richard, a visionary, was wrong about something. He predicted that, after mastering tennis, his daughters would retire young to pursue other endeavors. However, both continued to play after the age of 40 (Venus is 42 and it is not known how long she will continue), showing an undeniable love for the game. The same game as today, at least with Serena, for many the best of all time, she is already beginning to cry. Forever she will remain her legacy.

Tina Turner's soulful voice singing “Simply the best (Simply the best)” was the musical curtain that accompanied Serena's moistened eyes and her farewell to a little corner of Arthur Ashe. The almost 24,000 spectators, standing, blushed the palms of her hand, giving her her last ovation. One of the most incredible stories that the sport could have known has ended.

Summary of Tomljanović's win against Serena