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How do you say goodbye to a player like Serena? The best way to start is to go over some of her devastatingly impressive records, including:

  • She won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most by any player in the Open Era (male or female)
  • She is joint-third on the all-time list and second in the Open Era for total major titles.
  • She has simultaneously held all four major singles titles (2002–03 and 2014–15), which the press dubbed the “Serena Slam”
  • She is the most recent player to have simultaneously held all four major women’s doubles titles (2009–10).
  • Williams was the world’s highest paid woman athlete in 2016 and 2017, and in 2017 she was the only woman on Forbes’ list of the 100 highest-paid athletes, with 27 million USD in prize money and endorsements.

Records aside, Serena has arguably had a greater impact on the game of tennis than any other player ever. Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have done wonders for the sport, but at the end of the day, they have not revolutionised the game in the way Serena did. Alongside her sister, Venus, Williams is rightly credited with ushering in a new era of power and athleticism on the women’s professional tennis tour. When the Williams sisters arrived, they were simply stronger, faster, and better than their opponents. With their utter dominance at the top of the sport, and continued improvement, aspiring players across the world felt the shot across the bow. Gone were the days when teen phenoms could come up and dominate the sport a la Martina Hingis or Jennifer Capriati or Tracy Austin. If they wanted to be the best, they would have to rival the power and ruthless efficiency of the Williams game.

In the 20+ years since she first emerged on the scene, very few players have been able to consistently challenge Serena. Her career, of course, has had its ups and downs. There were periods where her commitment to the sport just were not there. She was not in shape, and she suffered some disappointing losses. But she came back with a vengeance. Very few players have ever been able to win a single grand slam after age 30. Serena won ten.

But perhaps Serena’s most critical accomplishment has been the way she and her sister have changed the perception of the sport. Before the Williams sisters came along, tennis had a reputation for being a stuffy sport, one mostly for white people. The Williams sisters emerged and were so unapologetically black that their sheer presence rocked the tennis world. And when they eventually became two of the best tennis players of all time, they inspired generations of young girls and boys to not only play the sport, but attempt to dominate it. Almost every young player out there, no matter their race, points to Serena as their greatest idol, and that is understandable. There is an upper-upper echelon of players in each sport – Wayne Gretzky in hockey, Michael Jordan for basketball – and Serena has earned her place on that very short list of the greatest of the greatest. She is the best there ever was.