Serena Williams quits tennis; an era of women’s tennis has come to an end

When Serena Williams walked away from the courts for the last time, an era of women’s tennis came to an end.

She has been compared to Muhammad Ali for her achievements and in many ways her struggles were similar to that of the great boxing champion. The statistics of her career are mind boggling. She has won a total of 39 Grand Slam titles. Of these, 23 are in singles competition, 14 in doubles and 2 in mixed doubles. She won her first grand slam at the age of 17. For 319 weeks she ruled the world as the top ranked player.

She has also won four Gold medals at the Olympic Games. She has won 95 million dollars as prize money and to top it all, she has been clocked as having served the ball at an astounding speed of 128.6 miles per hour (207 KMPH). To put that in perspective, the fastest ball ever bowled in cricket was by Pakistan’s speed demon Shoaib Akhtar and that was clocked at 100.2 mph (161.3 KMPH). So Serena Williams can hit the ball like a thunderbolt leaving her opponents gasping.

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The former world number 6, Chanda Rubin once described what it was like to face Serena Williams across the court. “When she hit a shot I had no time to react or move. Mind you, I have played against other legends like Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport. But nobody has the power that Serena has,” said Rubin.

To get back to the comparison with Muhammad Ali, the Williams siblings including Serena and her champion sister Venus both faced and overcame many hardships in the early stages of their career. One of these arose from the fact that the family was not well off and was black. Tennis is a game where African American athletes seldom dominate. In the past there were Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. Both had faced the question of racial discrimination too. All the clubs the Williams sisters went to for practice had a majority of whites who teamed up to discourage the sisters in every way. The spectators too were not above hurling racial abuse at the sisters. It was their father Richard’s mature handling of these issues which enabled the sisters to overcome the impediments.

Racism and violence seemed to always accompany their lives. When the children were young, the father would take them to practice at nearby courts. The locality was not a good neighborhood and on two or three occasions Richard was beaten up by thugs who also taunted and threatened the sisters. In 2003 one of the sisters Yetunde Price was shot dead by a member of a notorious street gang known as the Compton Crips gang. It was a case of mistaken identity but the murder of their sister was a devastating misfortune to the tennis careers of Serena and Venus Williams. In her autobiography titled Queen Of The Court Serena has written that she slipped into depression. She became disinterested in everything around her. She had to struggle to get her mind back on tennis and it was only after five years that she was able to once again reach the top ranks in the world.

Throughout her career Serena, her sister Venus and father Richard had to deal with racial abuse. This led to controversies too. Also allegations of match fixing were hurled at the duo. The provocations sometimes led to retaliation by Serena and these further compounded the problems. She was put on probation or fined for her outbursts. But at the end of it all Serena can take satisfaction from the fact that she has been hailed by many players, coaches and journalists as the best woman player of the open era. According to Sue Barker, former champion tennis player, Serena should be ranked as the greatest because the level of competition now is much higher than it used to be. Her achievements have had a great influence on young girls and boys who see her as a role model and take inspiration from her.

When she played her last match, many celebrities and legends of sport were there to wish her well. Golf champion Tiger Woods was spotted in the stands encouraging her with his words and gestures. Basketball star LeBron James tweeted: “You are the greatest. What you have done for sport and for women is unprecedented.” Oprah Winfrey stated: “25 years. Champion. Shero. Legend forever.” Serena herself told the people present at the courtside: “I am so grateful to everyone who ever said – Go Serena Go. You guys got me here.” She has already made plans for her retired life with her husband Alexis and 5 year old daughter Olympia. The little girl has already got a tennis coach of her own. Will she keep the family tradition alive? We must wait and watch.

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