Whether it’s in the powerful groundstrokes of players like Coco Gauff or the growing number of young African Americans who attend tennis camps across the United States each year, Serena Williams’ influence will be felt. long after hanging up his racquet.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion is expected to confirm her retirement at some point during the next US Open fortnight, ending a career that spanned four decades and produced a slew of records that will only be able to – never be beaten.
A sporting and cultural icon, Williams, 40, along with her older sister Venus, played a transformative role in changing the face of tennis around the world.
“I think (Serena) as an athlete, not just as a tennis player, was one of the most important athletes in the history of sport,” said 22-time singles king Rafael Nadal. in Grand Slam.
Daniil Medvedev, the defending US Open men’s singles champion, added: “In 100 years we will still be talking about Serena Williams.”
Martin Blackman, executive director of player development for the United States Tennis Association, has witnessed the effect the rise of the Williams sisters has had on the sport.
Blackman, an African-American former tennis professional, said Serena and Venus Williams would leave lasting legacies inside and outside of tennis, noting the sisters’ rise from the middle streets of South Los Angeles to the top. of their sport.
“The first level of (Serena’s) legacy will be a woman with her sister and their family who were able to come out of a difficult situation growing up in Compton, not a lot of resources and playing a sport that was still traditionally white and quite expensive, and this story of being able to take this journey to become a champion is the first,” Blackman told AFP.
Together, Blackman said, the Williams sisters transcended tennis.
“I happen to be an African-American male. When I saw Serena and Venus arrive and saw them confident and comfortable in their own skin, it was something that showed me that they were really grounded, really secure, really confident. It was a shock to established tennis society,” Blackman said.
“African American girls wearing braids, being themselves, shamelessly. I think at first there was some resistance. I think the comments were a little different. For them, it sent a message to all diverse people – no matter if black, Hispanic, gay or lesbian – that you can succeed by being yourself.
“That you can be authentic and blaze your trail without compromising who you are. Over time, that’s probably the biggest cultural transformation they’ve brought to the sport of tennis.”
Blackman said the Williams Effect was reflected in the growing number of African American girls entering USTA tennis camps as well as the growing number of black female players on the WTA Tour.
“Our number in terms of diverse youth has grown steadily over the last two or three years,” Blackman said.
“We have a network of camps across the country and I’ve seen more and more African American girls come into the game through these camps, which means they’re the best in the country.”
At the elite level, a record 12 African American women have played in the US Open main draw in 2020.
African-American tennis players have also increasingly graced Grand Slam finals.
Prior to the emergence of the Williams sisters, Zina Garrison was the only African-American woman to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open era.
Over the past five years, African-American players such as Gauff, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys have all made Slam finals, while Japan’s Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian-American, has won four Grand Slam tournaments. Slam.
“If you look at everyone who has our skin color, we clearly followed it,” Osaka said on Saturday. “I think I’m the product of what she did. I wouldn’t be here without Serena, Venus, her whole family.”
Gauff, the 18-year-old Florida man who reached the French Open final this year, said Serena Williams had been her role model on and off the court.
“Before Serena came along, there wasn’t really a sports icon that looked like me,” Gauff said.
“Growing up, I never thought I was different because the number one player in the world was someone who looked like me.
“Sometimes being a woman, a black woman in the world, you settle for less. I feel like Serena taught me that, watching her. She never settled for less.”
For Gauff, Williams’ dominance over different decades is enough to settle any debate over whether she should be considered the GOAT (Greatest of All Time).
“To me, she will always be seen as the GOAT,” Gauff said.
“She didn’t rule a generation. She didn’t rule for two generations. She ruled for more than three generations.”
Canadian Leylah Fernandez, 2021 US Open runner-up, said Williams will be remembered as a champion for women’s and men’s players.
“She paved the way for all WTA players, even ATP players, to achieve their own goals, speak their minds, keep fighting for what they believe in,” Fernandez said.
“It’s a great way to leave the sport.”