When Serena Williams announced Wednesday her plans to retire from tennis, we at Just Women’s Sports asked ourselves: What are the biggest moments from her 27-year career?
The answer: All of them.
…but we made our best attempt to choose a few anyway.
Fun fact: The full US Open final between 17-year-old Williams and Martina Hingis is available on YouTube. So for those wanting to relive one of the first major moments of her career in the lead-up to what is likely her final US Open, you can do so here:
After breaking onto the scene in 1998, Williams broke through and won her first Grand Slam at the US Open in 1999. Then-world No. 1 and fellow teenager Hingis defeated sister Venus Williams in the semifinals, meaning that Serena’s first appearance in a major final would come against one of the game’s best. (Hingis was the first Swiss player, man or woman, to win a major title and reach No. 1 in the world – a spot she held for 209 weeks).
Williams defeated her in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6, in a surprise to many. While the idea that Williams would win majors wasn’t shocking, many didn’t think it would happen so soon.
“She was already being talked about as a future major winner, just nobody thought it was going to happen at 17 at that US Open,” Pam Shriver said.
After winning the US Open in 1999, it took Williams three years to win another major. Then came 2002, when Serena and her sister put on a show across the major championships.
Serena won her first French Open and her first Wimbledon tournament, as well as her second US Open, and she defeated Venus in all three finals. She completed her first “Serena Slam” at the 2003 Australian Open, where she beat Venus once again in the final.
Serena ended the 2002 season at No. 1 in the world after her US Open win. In her career, she has held the No. 1 spot atop the world rankings for 319 weeks – good for third all time behind Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf. Her last world No. 1 ranking came in 2017, marking 14 years, 10 months and six days in between her first and last No. 1 ranking – the longest of any women’s player.
London seems to be a special place for Williams – after all, Wimbledon is where she chose to make her return this summer after spending the past year out with an injury.
But while Wimbledon holds special weight, so do the 2012 London Olympics. At those Games, she bested Maria Sharapova in the final to win her third Olympic gold medal – her only singles gold medal. While she would win doubles in those same Olympics with sister Venus, the singles medal secured her the career singles Golden Slam – all four major titles plus an Olympic gold medal.
Williams is just the second women’s player in history after Graf to achieve the feat in singles. Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal achieved on the men’s side. No player has joined the list since Williams finished her Golden Slam in 2012.
Echoing a theme that stretched throughout Venus and Serena’s careers, Serena’s last major title came in 2017 at the Australian Open – against sister Venus.
Serena didn’t drop a set all tournament, bringing her total of Grand Slam singles titles to 23. It was her seventh win in Melbourne – the most of any player – and made her the winningest player of the Open era.
A few months later, Serena revealed that she was pregnant with daughter Olympia. The news brought with it the knowledge that Williams had been around eight weeks pregnant when the Australian Open began.
Make no mistake, the greatest player to ever play the game of tennis has mixed emotions about retiring from the sport. She said as much in the Vogue article in which she announced her plans to retire.
In a sports world that has often been dominated by men, Serena Williams has broken the mold. There is no dispute about who she is or the legacy she leaves behind. Serena Williams has changed the game of tennis. More than that, she has changed the game for women, period.
The unfairness of having to choose between growing her family and continuing her tennis career is not lost on Williams. “If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family,” she told Vogue.
Still, there’s also something incredibly empowering about Williams, 41, making the decision to step away and doing so on her own terms.
“I don’t particularly like to think about my legacy,” Williams told Vogue. “I get asked about it a lot, and I never know exactly what to say.
“But I’d like to think that thanks to opportunities afforded to me, women athletes feel that they can be themselves on the court. They can play with aggression and pump their fists. They can be strong yet beautiful. They can wear what they want and say what they want and kick butt and be proud of it all.”