Given her impeccable standards, it wasn’t the fairytale ending she probably would have wanted, but the reaction from those at Arthur Ashe Stadium was further proof of just how important Williams has been to the game.
Throughout the week at the US Open, players and fans shared stories of how her life affected their own lives and showed appreciation through banners in the stands and social media posts.
The 40-year-old concludes the final chapter of her remarkable career by winning 39 grand slam titles: 23 singles titles, 14 doubles titles and two mixed doubles titles.
Williams does, however, take one grand slam singles title, less than Australia’s Margaret Court record, but it’s something she says she has more than come to terms with.
“Should, could, could. I didn’t show up like I should or could have. But I showed up 23 times, and that’s fine. Actually, it’s extraordinary.”
Along with her sister Venus, Serena Williams has inspired a generation of young people to pick up a racket and left an indelible mark on the sport.
The pair have inspired Hollywood, most notably the movie “King Richard,” which showed the dedication and focus that the entire Williams family needed to produce two of the best players ever on the field.
Their father, Richard Williams, takes center stage in that film, and as their coach, he trained them hard on the dilapidated public courts in Compton, Los Angeles, in the 1990s. It was a tutoring that laid the foundation for both of their careers and inspired others from all walks of life to believe.
“I think her [Williams’] legacy is so broad that you can’t even describe it in words,” said four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka as she described Serena Williams’ influence before the US Open.
“She has changed the sport so much. She has introduced people who have never heard of tennis to the sport.
“I think I’m a product of what she’s done. I wouldn’t be here without Serena, Venus and her whole family. I’m very grateful to her.”
Williams;’ professional debut came in 1995 when she was defeated by Annie Miller when she was only 14 years old.
She developed quickly and did not have to wait long for silverware, claiming her first grand slam title in 1999 at the US Open.
It was a trophy she would win five more times as she traveled the world entertaining thousands of fans.
In total, she won seven singles titles at Wimbledon, three at the French Open and seven at the Australian Open, making her arguably the biggest name in the sport in the world.
With her often unstoppable strength and mental fortitude, she managed to defeat generations of tennis players. At her peak, she was unplayable; only she could beat herself.
Some of the biggest names in the sport have paid tribute to Williams and her achievements at the US Open. After Friday’s defeat, four-time NBA champion LeBron James posted a video on Twitter praising Williams’ performance.
“Wow, where do I start?” he said. “First of all I want to start by congratulating you on your incredible career. You are a GOAT. What you have done for tennis, what you have done for women and what you have done for sport, period, is unprecedented.
“It was an honor to watch your journey, to see you conquer all the goals you’ve ever set, to see you break records, to see you amazing and transcendent, not only on the tennis court, but also off it.
“I could literally sit here and talk about your journey and just talk about watching you from a distance and talking about our relationship now for an hour, but I don’t want to bore you too much with stuff you already know. So I want to just to thank you for being this inspiration to so many.”
In a tweet, 15-time golf major winner Tiger Woods said: “You are literally the best on and off the court. Thank you for inspiring us all to pursue our dreams. I love you little sister!!!! !!”
A career of resilience
But as she reached the twilight of her career, the ever-present grand slam favorite had to take on a new role—one she was less familiar with.
Since returning from a hiatus after the birth of her daughter, Williams was no longer the unstoppable player she once was.
The heart was there, of course, and there were more than enough glimpses of magic to make you believe that a 24th grand slam was possible, but in the end the challenge was too great.
In reality, though, it’s remarkable that Williams even played on the court after what turned out to be a life-threatening delivery.
Her daughter Olympia was born by emergency cesarean section, and while that surgery went smoothly, Williams suffered from complications in the aftermath.
“It started with a pulmonary embolism, a condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs become 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 became short of breath, I didn’t wait a second to alert the nurses.
“This led to a slew of health complications that I luckily survived. First my C-section wound popped open due to the intense coughing I endured as a result of the embolism.
“I went back to the operating room, where the doctors found a large hematoma, a swelling of clotted blood, in my abdomen. And then I returned to the operating room for a procedure that prevents clots from traveling to my lungs.
“When I finally got home to my family, I had to spend the first six weeks of motherhood in bed.”
Business venture acquisition
It’s a story of resilience that’s a microcosm of her career.
Williams has always found a way to show up, battling multiple injuries and playing through while suffering from postpartum depression.
Therefore, she will be remembered for much more than just her tennis achievements and sponsorship deals.
Throughout her life, Williams has sacrificed everything for her profession – it is ultimately what made her one of the greatest and most memorable athletes in the world – but she is now ready to “evolve” away from a sport.
According to Reuters, Williams made more than $94 million in prize money, but made an estimated $340 million through endorsements and her sponsorship deals are unlikely to dry up.
Her retirement now gives her more time to pursue business ventures and she is eager to give back through her charitable ambassador positions.
And while Williams will no doubt have a successful career after tennis, the sport will suffer without her on tour.
“I am terrible at saying goodbye, the world’s worst. But know that I am more grateful to you than I can ever express in words,” she wrote in her Vogue article.
“You’ve taken me to so many wins and so many trophies. I’m going to miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis. And I’m going to miss you.”