Serena Williams’ Legacy Is That She Changed Tennis Forever

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

One of the greatest athletes of all time is about to hang up her racquet for the last time. Serena Williams: the 23-time Grand Slam champion and G.O.A.T of tennis will play her last games at the US Open.

Announcing her imminent retirement in a personal essay in Vogue last month, she’s been reluctant to call it retirement and instead has penned it an “evolution” from tennis.

“It’s been a very hard decision. I think when you’re passionate about something and you love something so much, sometimes I think it’s harder to walk away than to not,” Serena said to a reporter, following a US Open match.

“It’s like Serena 2.0. I’m still gonna be crazy, I’m still gonna be intense. I’ll still be around”.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams)

Legacy of Greatness

At just the age of 17, Serena won her first Grand Slam in 1999 and now has 23 under her belt.

Born and raised in Compton, Serena’s whole life has been tennis — a sport renowned for its whiteness, wealth and exclusiveness — which both Serena and her sister Venus have spoken out about having to endure systemic sexism and racism from the sport and media.

“I think without a doubt the story of Venus and Serena Williams is probably the greatest sports story in the United States history,” said William C. Rhoden, sports columnist.

As for Serena’s legacy to the sport, she changed it forever. Whether that be “physically, mentally, or movement-wise, it just got better,” former professional tennis player Mary Joe Fernandez told The New York Times.

And beyond tennis, according to podcaster Michael Holley, Serena’s impact has been far reaching on culture, fashion, and how we perceive female athletes.

Reasons Behind Serena’s Retirement

According to her Vogue essay, the tennis star’s reason for stepping away from the courts is to continue building a family. It’s a sacrifice that Serena’s male counterparts frustratingly don’t have to worry about, and that if she were a guy, she wrote, she “would be out there playing and winning while her wife was doing the physical labour of expanding our family”.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams)

Journalist Caira Conner for The Atlantic, wrote that while Serena “may not be able to dually serve the gods of tennis and motherhood… generations of young athletes will continue to pick up racquets because she inspired them to do so.”

Take for instance, young stars like Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka. “If she had 23 Grand Slams and was a terrible person, I wouldn’t consider her the G.O.A.T. I think for me what makes her the G.O.A.T. is her personality and all that she’s done off the court, to fight for equality, to fight for young players like me,” Coco Gauff told reporters.

While 24 Grand Slam titles was technically the number to beat Aussie legend Margaret Court, it’s a comparison that really falls short. Margaret retired in 1977, and was from a time before the Open era of tennis. And really, Williams’ career and what she has endured — “two decades’ worth of public commentary on her body, race, attitude, anger”—  is why she is the greatest player of all time.