Life in a World Without Serena

Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons

New York

A sports star just stepped away. No biggie.

We’ve gone through this a half a million times – right? The retiring and ailing baseball legend Lou Gehrig told a Yankee Stadium crowd, “I am the luckiest man alive.” Hollywood made a movie.

In tennis, a litany of stars have departed in assorted ways. Boris Becker whispered to Pete Sampras at the Wimbledon net, Andre Agassi gave a poignant US Open speech, Chris Evert and Stefan Edberg offered classy farewell waves, Martina Navratilova nibbled some grass and French officials put on an elaborate and poignant farewell for Jo Wilfred Tsonga. 

Serena’s farewell had no limits: blasts of neon, howling fans, feel-good videos, Queen Latifah’s poetry, a letter from Oprah, Billie Jean King pep talks. Serena got more standing ovations than a diva at La Scala. Twitter explosions, take-out-a-mortgage ticket prices and non-stop hype, the Serena Open was one big loud, over-the-top adrenaline rush. It took Jimmy Connors five matches to set off a frenzy in 1991. But that was a modest off-Broadway show compared with the Serena Slam this week. Never before have three singles matches and a doubles match captured our imagination and dominated the news cycle deep into a Grand Slam. It all left tennisdom gasping, and many other intriguing tennis stories were left in the shadows…There was little oxygen left for anything else.

We’re told that no one player is bigger than the sport itself. This makes total sense.

But today felt like the dreariest of Mondays – or maybe the day after Christmas. The atmosphere was sullen – there was a monastic vibe.

The Open desperately needed to change gears. And, of course, few in tennis were better at that than Serena. Writer Ahmed Sule enthusiastically noted, “One trait that separates Williams from her peers is her resilience in facing adversity. Despite facing the headwinds of racism, sexism, ill-health, pregnancy, naysayers, body shaming, hostile crowds, biased officiating, match points, aging and grief, Williams overcame these obstacles to etch her sculpture into the granite face of tennis Mount Rushmore.”

And today the Serena Open (oops, make that the US Open) bounced back with a bounty of great matches. 

Czech Petra Kvitova saved two match points and downed Garbine Muguruza 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(10) in over three hours. Russian Andrey Rublev downed Canadian Denis Shapovalov 6-4, 2-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-6(7) in over four hours.

American Frances Tiafoe impressed with a straight-set win against No. 14 seed Diego Schwartzman. With Brandon Nakashima going down to Jannick Sinner and Jenson Brooksby’s loss to the vastly impressive Carlos Alcaraz (the youngest man to reach the 4th round of the Open in back-to-back years since Pete Sampras in 1990) there is just one American man left in the draw – Mr. Tiafoe. There are four American women left in the draw: No. 8 seed Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff, Danielle Collins and Alison Riske-Amritraj.

Tomorrow there will be a must-watch fourth-round match between the intense No. 1 seed and defending champion Daniil Medvedev and the mercurial Nick Kyrgios, who beat the Russian in Toronto.

TIP OF THE MONTH: Cincinnati winner Caroline Garcia, who is through to the fourth round, said the key to her recent success has been learning to keep her mouth shut.

STAT OF THE WEEK: 73 of the 127 players in the draw other than Serena were not born when Serena won the Open in 1999. 

CELEBRITIES SALUTE SERENA: Williams was a sensation on twitter. Here are a handful of celebrity shout-outs to Serena.

  • “Congratulations, Serena, for your heart, skill, intelligence, dedication, and grace,” Obama wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “Few athletes have inspired more people both in and beyond their sport!” – Barack Obama
  • “Congrats on an amazing career, @SerenaWilliams! How lucky were we to be able to watch a young girl from Compton grow up to become one of the greatest athletes of all time. I’m proud of you, my friend – and I can’t wait to see the lives you continue to transform with your talents.” – Michelle Obama
  • #SerenaWilliams THANK YOU !! You’re so damn DOPE!! “ – Lebron James
  • “Her incredible career made its mark on tennis history. And yet her greatest contributions may be yet to come. Your journey continues. #serena #USOpen” – Billie Jean King
  • @serenawilliams you’re literally the greatest on and off the court. Thank you for inspiring all of us to pursue our dreams. I love you little sis!!!!!!” – Tiger Woods
  • “thank you @serenawilliams for transcending sports for black athletes, female athletes and every athlete such a pleasure to watch, thanks for being an inspiration” – Simone Biles
  • “It’s truly been fun to watch Serena not only change the sport of tennis, but more importantly, how she’s helped empower the next generation…one of the things I admire about her is she simply doesn’t quit. On or off the court” – Michael Phelps
  • “Serena, THANK YOU. It is because of you I believe in this dream. The impact you’ve had on me goes beyond any words that can be put together and for that I say thank you, thank you, thank you, GOAT!” – Coco Gauff
  • “I love you @serenawilliams It’s been the pleasure of a lifetime to watch you become what you have. Can’t wait to see what you do next. Thank you my old friend” – Andy Roddick
  • “Congratulations, Serena for an inspiring career! Cookie & I are so excited for you. I remember when we talked about you becoming an entrepreneur. Now, I look forward to watching you grow in business! @serenawilliams #Serena” – Magic Johnson
  • “Serena fighting until the last point, always. You’ve given so much to tennis, and so much to womens sports. Thank you @serenawilliams” – World Cup winning American soccer player Alex Morgan
  • “I’ve never seen a more intense competitor and it was an honor to share a court with you and watch history.  Simply the best. @serenawilliams” – James Blake
  • “It’s been a joy watching greatness! Congrats Serena!” – Baseball Hall of Famer Derek Jeter
  • “Salute the GOAT @serenawilliams. What a riveting final bow. Such a gift to watch her incredible career.” – John Legend
  • “THANKS @serenawilliams YOU’RE GOING OUT SCRAPPING, JUST LIKE YOU CAME IN” – Samuel L. Jackson
  • @serenawilliams you are a warrior! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!” – Mia Hamm

WAY TO GO JESSE: Jessica Pegula is the only woman to be in the top ten of both singles and doubles. BTW: Nick Kyrgios is the only ATP player who is in the top 25 in singles and doubles. 

SAY IT ISN’T SO: Last year, Jenson Brooksby took a set off of No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic in the third round on Arthur Ashe stadium. This year on Ashe in the third round, he lost the first two sets to No. 3 seed Carlos Alcaraz. Then he broke the Spaniard twice to go up 3-0 in the third set. But then he lost six games in a row…Poor Ben Simmons – the controversial Brooklyn Nets player has been the only celebrity who we saw booed when his picture flashed on the electronic scoreboard.



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