At age 40, Serena Williams, 23-time grand slam winner, announces her retirement after a long and successful career. She told Vogue of her retirement, stating, “it’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine.” The widely considered greatest female tennis player of all time became an icon and has inspired many other Black girls to play tennis.

Serena Williams celebrating one of her 23 Grand Slam wins.
PHOTO: Buzzfeed

Serena grew up in Compton, California, where she began playing tennis at the age of three and was coached by her father, Richard Williams. Richard, who saw great potential in Venus and Serena, quit his job to coach them full-time.

In 1991, the Williams family moved to Florida, so the girls could have better access to stronger facilities and were coached by Rick Macci. Serena had her professional debut when she was only 13 years old at the Bell Challenge in Quebec, and unfortunately, she lost.

In 1999, Serena made history as the first African-American woman to win a major title at the US Open. Later she was ranked number four in the world. Serena continued to have great success, but suddenly tragedy struck. Her older sister, Yetunde Prince, had been killed in a gang crossfire in Compton in 2003. This news was devastating. In 2005, she suffered from depression, bad conditioning and knee injuries, causing her to slip to number 140 in the rankings. She became distracted from tennis.

In 2007, Serena began to fall in love with tennis again, and although she had a poor seeding, she decided to compete in the Australian Open. She shocked everybody when she beat Maria Sharapova and won the whole tournament. She got her inspiration from traveling back to Africa because she became even more empowered as a Black woman and more focused on her career.

Serena continues to win more Grand Slams, showing her resilience and mental toughness, as well as inspiring many athletes. She suffered many serious injuries throughout 2010, and she was even hospitalized and needed emergency surgery for a pulmonary embolism in her lungs. This was an incredibly scary situation for Serena. She did not return to the game for months. She struggled when she came back and lost many of her matches, but enrolled in college. She managed to increase her confidence and won her fifth title at Wimbledon and two gold medals at the London Olympic Games. This cemented her as a fighter.

Her toughness showed when she won her 20th Grand Slam title while battling the flu. She had a rough next few years overcoming injuries, but she was inspired again when the court she played on as a kid in Compton was refurbished. In 2017 she cemented herself as the greatest by winning her 23rd grand slam at the Australian Open, beating Venus.

In 2016 she announced her engagement to Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit. About a year later Williams announced that she was expecting a baby. Serena gave birth, but was in great pain afterward and was worried it might have had to do with her health issues, but the doctors disregarded her concern. When the doctors finally listened to her, they realized she needed emergency surgery for clots in her lungs. Serena and her daughter, Alexia Olympia Ohanian Jr., both survived. Subsequently, Williams spread awareness of many black women who die after childbirth. She was bedridden for weeks, but later returned to tennis.

Serena had a long career and left behind a great legacy. In 2013, she became the oldest female tennis player to be ranked first in the World. She inspired many Black girls to play tennis, including Naomi Osaka, who she later played against. She has also inspired many with grit, unbreakable determination and a tough mentality. 

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