Serena Williams' glittering tennis career has probably come to an end with the American legend going down to Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round of the US Open on Friday night. Nearing 41 and ranked 605, Serena had pulled off a stunning win over world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday. But she lost to Tomljanovic in three sets to bring the curtains down on a remarkable journey spanning 27 years in all likelihood.
It was at the same Flushing Meadows in 1999 Serena won the first of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles, second only to Margaret Court's tally of 24. Serena has been an inspiration to millions across the globe. In fact both she and her elder sister Venus have been shining examples of talent and hard work overcoming adversities. A fair share of credit goes to their father Richard for shaping the two into becoming true icons of the sport. There was a time in the early part of this millennium when the Williams sisters dominated Grand Slams as if they were some inter-collegiate competitions.
Now Serena hangs up her racket having won almost everything – seven Australian Open and as many Wimbledon titles and six US Open crowns to go with three French Open titles. Add to it 14 doubles Slams and a couple of mixed doubles Slams, Olympics singles gold in 2012 and three more Olympic doubles gold medals! The numbers are truly staggering.
Despite these achievements, not having won another Grand Slam after taking a maternity leave since clinching the 2017 Australian Open will rankle Serena for sure. The pursuit to become the best in the world has been ingrained in her DNA by her dad and Serena always strove to be the greatest ever.
For most part of her career, Serena delivered at the crunch, especially in the third set. Her brute force and precision meant the rivals invariably came second best. After her shock loss to Maria Sharapova in the 2004 Wimbledon and WTA Championships finals the same year, Serena made it a point to dominate the Russian for the rest of their meetings. The fact that she won three Grand Slam titles by saving match points speaks volumes of her grit and resilience.
It was pure will which pulled her through in her second round win over Kontaveit. But physical fatigue and the mental strain of her farewell took its toll as Serena bowed out just as another American icon Andre Agassi exited the 2006 US Open. Agassi lost to Germany's Benjamin Becker in the third round of his final Grand Slam having edged Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis in a five-set thriller in the previous round.
The WTA Tour will not be the same without Serena. She was a symbol of fighting spirit, pride and strength on the court and her legacy will be tough to emulate. Ever since Serena's decline, there have been plenty of new Grand Slam champions and the trend is likely to continue. It's both an opportunity and a challenge for the new crop of players.