It is like witnessing magic when you watch an athlete do what they do best. To see a mere human soar in the air over to the other side of a bar or to witness someone run at a speed quicker than a human thought. A basketball player defying gravity just to get a ball into a hoop. A ballerina turning their body into a top, spinning and spinning without fatigue.
We all know the athletes whose talents have defied logic. The Jordans. The Woods. The Copelands. However, there is probably no person who has achieved alchemy in their career quite like Serena Williams.
For decades we’ve watched the magnetic chemistry Williams has fostered between her racket and the ball. The thunderous force in which she served. Her muscular physique that looks as if it's been sculpted in the image of a Goddess.
In the recent issue ofVogueshe speaks on her plans to retire or “evolve,” as Williams put it, from tennis, the sport she’s dominated since the 90s. In the article, Williams is frank about the mixed emotions she’s experiencing with this decision she’s made. “There is no happiness in this topic for me,” Williams says. “I know it’s not the usual thing to say, but I feel a great deal of pain.” She continues: It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine. I hate it. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I keep saying to myself, I wish it could be easy for me, but it’s not. I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next.”
It seems like Williams’ anxiety over leaving can only be rivaled by fans’ sorrow of having to say goodbye to the sports legend’s career.
To have watched Williams play tennis since she was just a child was a chance to watch as someone took the gift they were born with and turned it into something otherworldly. From the moment she stepped into our collective imaginations donning a head full of beads that adorned her braids at just 14 years old in 1995, she was bringing all of us Black girls along with her.
Serena Williams 11 Sep 1999: American tennis player Serena Williams kisses her trophy after winning a match (against Martina Hingis of Switzerland) during the US Open at the USTA National Tennis Courts in Flushing Meadows, New YorkCredit: Jamie Squire /Allsport
There were people perplexed that a Black girl and her equally talented sister hailed from Compton, California — a place that had become synonymous with violence and poverty. Their story had become one about defying the odds, as if not becoming a casualty of the various societal ills was an accomplishment and not an indictment of the system they had to work against in the first place.
This would become a recurring problem throughout her career. From dog whistle comments from the “competitors” she frequently bested like Maria Sharapova, to the media and sports officials, Williams was never able to be just an athlete. She was also forced by the many instances of misogyny and racism in her career to embrace a life of activism.
It's difficult to surmise how much she’s impacted a new generation of athletes like Naomi Osaka, Sloane Stephens, and many more Black girls who see themselves in Williams. We are her legacy of Black woman magic and excellence. Whatever the future holds for her is yet to be determined, but if it’s anything like her tennis career, it will be iconic.
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