"I’m grateful to have witnessed history": Thank you, Serena Williams.

It was the spring of 1999 and fortunately; I was nursing a bad case of the flu as I stayed home from school and watched Serena Williams defeat Martina Hingis at Flushing Meadows, her first ever Grand Slam singles title age 17. It marked the start of her near three-decade-long domination. Big sister Venus, from the stands, looked on, proud, her Grand Slam triumph would come the following year at Wimbledon. 

However, it was in 1998, that I saw Venus and Serena’s debut at the Australian Open. To say I was fascinated would be an understatement - I was bedazzled. 

Women’s tennis had never seen girls like this before, let alone two siblings from a neighbourhood that seemed so far away from the centre court. With their trademark hair beads, they were the young blood of the WTA Tour and a new brand of women’s tennis had arrived. 

The revolution was here; it was them.

Watch: Serena Williams, we salute you. Post continues after video. 

Video via Mamamia.

Under the strict guidance of Richard Williams, their father, what we saw was breathtaking power and athleticism. If their return stance of well inside the baseline for first and second serves was not intimidating enough, it would be taking the ball early, swinging volleys mid-court, Venus’ wingspan at the net and Serena’s ability to serve an ace when it really counted. All of this was perfected on a run-down court in Compton, California. 


But it was their agility that made them unplayable to most on the tour. 

The ability to turn defence into offence in one step changed the game. Richard Williams, with a sense of great knowing, knew his girls would be one and two in the world. The media at the time thought he was crazy, the likelihood of one champion from the same family but two? He also knew that Serena would be better than Venus one day.  

It’s hard to speak about Serena’s greatness without Venus. Without Venus, there would be no Serena, as stated by Serena herself.

As demonstrated in King Richard, Venus was the prodigy, the one who was going to take the tennis world by storm and she did. But what the world wasn’t fully aware of, was that there was a younger tenacious little sister, waiting in the shadows. 

Venus Williams, Richard Williams, Serena Williams and Brandy Williams. Image: Getty.


As the youngest in my own family, we have the best seat in the house, watching our older siblings run gauntlets. We watch how they win but we also watch how they lose and we adapt. Serena no doubt was able to learn from Venus and along with her repertoire of shot-making and resolute mental strength, she became the greatest champion in the open era. 

Serena’s serve, the best serve women’s tennis has ever witnessed, has been the shot that has separated her from the pack. The control and spin on an out wide serve, to the sheer power down the tee, can all be disguised with the same ball toss making her serve difficult to read. 

Since Serena’s return after giving birth to Olympia in 2018, the media storm of number 24 has no doubt put pressure on the champion. 

Would she get there? Most of us thought she would because that is what we expect from her greatness. After reaching four consecutive finals at Wimbledon and the US Open, the reality was she was never close to winning any of those. 

If we retrospectively analyse the slams that may have gotten away, in my opinion, it would be the Vinci semi-final loss at the 2015 US Open where she was on track to win her second Serena Slam. The other was the final against Kerber at the 2016 Australian Open final in a thrilling three-set match under the lights on Rod Laver. While Kerber played an exceptional game and was a worthy champion, it was Williams’ failure to close routine balls at the net to give Kerber every chance to pass her. 


I am now finding myself watching replays of highlights from Serena because soon that’s all we will have of her greatness, just replays. As she penned in the latest issue of Vogue, the US Open will be her last tournament on tour as she "evolves away from tennis". 

Serena bowed out of the US Open on Friday night after Aussie, Ajla Tomljanovic, was able to hold her nerve against a biased New York crowd to defeat her in three. 

We saw glimpses of Williams’ ruthless all-court game, which she was able to produce consistently at the height of her dominance. Even when 5-1, match point down, we saw the never say die attitude synonymous with Serena, going for broke and crushing winners, hoping that she would rise like Lady Lazarus as she has done time and time again in her decorated career.

But that was then, and this is now and at 40, it’s extraordinary that her body is able to keep her competitive with the best in the world. The fact that she was able to make four Grand Slam Finals after childbirth, post-35, is extraordinary. 

And maybe this is why she is called the GOAT despite not picking up number 24 because of how long her dominance has spanned.  

It also means there has been a curtain call on the sister act that has wowed us for decades on the doubles court. The story of the William sisters is one of, if not the greatest story sport has ever seen. Whether on the same side of the court or on the other side of the net, they have provided us with blockbuster after blockbuster, occupying prime time spots across the globe. Most importantly, we have seen that even above the competition, their sisterhood comes first, that family is the most important thing in the world. 


Listen to Mia Freedman's interview with Serena Williams on No Filter. Post continues after audio. 

While the game of tennis lives on, it’s hard to imagine it without Serena.

In fact, it was the Williams sisters who made me love tennis as an eight-year-old. I suppose that is what champions do; they imprint something on the game and change it forever. 

These were girls who showed us that no matter which postcode you are from or the colour of your skin, with discipline and diligence, there is always a chance. It’s a story that would never have been without parents who believed in their children. 

Richard Williams and Oracene Price made the ultimate sacrifice, and it paid off. 

To quote Serena, "We took the globe and shook it, me and Venus, because we came from nothing, and in tennis, you kind of have to have something…"

Their lasting legacy on the game has no doubt inspired a wave of BIPOC to pick up a racquet in what is a white-dominated sport.

I'm going to miss the Serena roar, after she hits a winner. The outfits. The drama. The buzz she creates before every Grand Slam. 

I’m grateful to have witnessed history, to live in the same era as the greatest women’s player the tour has ever seen because it is doubtful her greatness can ever be replicated in my lifetime.

Thank you, Serena Williams.  

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