To her impeccable standards, it wasn’t the fairytale ending she might have wanted, but the reaction of those inside Arthur Ashe’s court was further evidence of just how important Williams was to the game.
Throughout the week at the US Open, players and fans have been telling wonderful stories of how her life has affected theirs, their appreciation shown through banners in the stands and messages on social media.
The 40-year-old is capping the final chapter of her illustrious career with 39 Grand Slam titles – 23 singles titles, 14 doubles titles and two mixed doubles titles.
However, Williams finished a singles Grand Slam title off the record set by Australian Margaret Court, but it’s something she says she more than accepts.
“It should, maybe, it could. I didn’t show up the way I should have been or that I could be. But I’ve attended 23 times, and that’s fine. In fact, it’s extraordinary.”
Along with her sister Venus, Serena Williams has inspired a generation of youngsters to pick up a racket and leave an indelible mark in the sport.
The duo inspired Hollywood, particularly the movie “King Richard” which showed the dedication and focus needed for the entire Williams family to produce two of the greatest players ever to step onto the court.
Their father, Richard Williams, is the focus of this film, and as their coach he trained them hard on the rundown public stadiums of the 1990s Compton, Los Angeles. It was an educational lesson that laid the foundations of both their careers and inspired others from all walks of life to believe.
“I think it’s her [Williams’] Describing the impact of Serena Williams ahead of the US Open, Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka said the legacy is really so broad that you can’t even describe it in words.
“It has changed the sport a lot. It has introduced people who had never heard of tennis before into the sport.
“I think I’m the product of what I did. I wouldn’t be here without Serena, Venus, and her entire family. I’m so grateful for her.”
Williams. Her professional debut came in 1995, when she defeated Annie Miller when she was just 14 years old.
She developed quickly and didn’t have to wait long for titles, taking her first Grand Slam singles title in 1999 at the US Open.
It was a trophy that she would win five more times as she went around the world entertaining thousands of fans as she did.
In total, she won seven singles titles at Wimbledon, three at the French Open and seven at the Australian Open to become the biggest name in the sport worldwide.
She has seen generations of tennis players with her often unstoppable strength and mental fortitude. At its peak, it was unplayable. Only she can hit herself.
Some of the sport’s biggest names were hailing Williams and her accomplishments during the US Open. After Friday’s defeat, four-time NBA champion LeBron James posted a video on Twitter praising Williams’ accomplishments.
“Wow, where do I start?” He said. “First of all, I’ll start by congratulating you, for an incredible career. You goats. What you’ve done for tennis, what you’ve done for women and what you’ve done for sports class, period, is unprecedented.”
“It is a great honor to watch your journey, to watch you score all the goals you set, to see you break records, to see you amazing and sublime, not only on the tennis court, but also off it.
“I could literally just sit here talking about your trip and just talk about watching you from afar and talking about our relationship now for an hour, but I don’t want to get bogged down about the things you already know. So I just want to say thank you for being such an inspiration to so many.”
In a tweet, fifteen-time golf winner Tiger Woods said: “You are literally the greatest on and off the court. Thank you for inspiring us all to pursue our dreams. LOVE YOU LITTLE SISTER!!!!!!”
The profession of endurance
When she reached the end of her career, the always-favorite in the big leagues had to take on a new role – one she wasn’t even familiar with.
Since returning from a hiatus after giving birth to her daughter, Williams is no longer the irrepressible player she once was.
The heart was there, of course it was, and there were more than enough magical glimpses to make you believe that a Grand Slam 24 was possible, but the challenge was just too big in the end.
But in truth, it is remarkable that Williams was playing on the field after what proved to be a life-threatening experience during childbirth.
Her daughter Olympia was born in an emergency C-section, and while that surgery went smoothly, Williams experienced complications in the aftermath.
“It started with a pulmonary embolism, a condition in which one or more of the arteries in the lungs are blocked by a blood clot,” she wrote for CNN.
“Because of my medical history with this problem, I live in fear of this situation. So, when I got short of breath, I didn’t wait a second to alert the nurses.
“This triggered a slew of health complications that I am fortunate to have survived. Initially a C-section wound opened due to the severe coughing I endured as a result of the obstruction.
“I went back to surgery, where the doctors found a large hematoma, a swelling of clotted blood, in my abdomen, then went back to the operating room for an operation that prevents clots from traveling to my lungs.
“When I finally came back to my family, I had to spend the first six weeks of motherhood in bed.”
It is a story of resilience and a microcosm of her career.
Williams has always found a way to keep showing up, fighting through multiple injuries and playing while suffering from postpartum depression.
This is why she will be remembered so much more than her tennis accomplishments and sponsorship deals.
Throughout her life, Williams has sacrificed everything for her career – it is ultimately what made her one of the greatest and most distinguished athletes in the world – but now she is ready to “evolve” away from the sport.
According to Reuters, Williams has earned more than $94 million in prize money, but has earned an estimated $340 million through endorsements, and her sponsorship deals are unlikely to dry up.
Her retirement will now give her more time to pursue business ventures and she is eager to give back with her roles as an ambassador for philanthropy.
And while Williams would undoubtedly have a successful career after tennis, the sport would struggle without her on tour.
In her Vogue article, she wrote, “I am awful at goodbyes, the worst in the world. But please know that I am more grateful to you than I can express in words.”
“You have carried me to many victories and many awards. I will miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis. And I will miss you.”