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The Void Serena Williams Left in Tennis Doesn’t Must Be Filled


Serena Williams is gone from the sport; a minimum of, we predict so. Given the sharp, competitive way she played on the U.S. Open last week, possibly, just possibly, she’ll find yourself coming back for an encore.

Let’s take her at her word, despite the malaise that settled on the grounds at Flushing Meadows in the times following her defeat to Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia. Their three-hour match Friday night featured a number of the most thrilling tennis played at this tournament in years.

Now what? That was the query fans were asking over the Labor Day weekend, lots of whom had bought their tickets just before the tournament began, gambling that Williams would keep playing and that they may watch her last great run. Along with her gone, not even the players who’re left within the tournament have a firm grasp of who will take her place in women’s tennis.

“I don’t know,” said Jessica Pegula last week, echoing a typical locker room sentiment. Pegula, an American barely known outside of tennis though she is currently ranked No. 8, made note of the remarkable explosion of talent on the ladies’s tour, which features its deepest-ever bench, but lamented that no person has been up for filling the Serena void.

“It’s open for somebody to step up,” she said. “That’s why you take a look at someone like Serena, dominant over several eras, and it’s pretty crazy.”

In fact, tennis, like most sports, thrives on big names. On the ladies’s side, in the trendy era of professionalization, the racket passed from Billie Jean King to Chris Evert to Martina Navratilova to Steffi Graf and Monica Seles. Then it was Venus Williams’s turn, and eventually, Serena, who not only pushed the sport in popularity and reach, she helped modified the best way the sport was played.

“It’s hard to picture tennis without her,” Pegula added, dolefully.

Does women’s tennis need such a dominating figure to be interesting?

Possibly it’s a matter of perspective. Rivalries and dynasties are great things. Many fans seem content to follow a small handful players or, in other sports, teams. The few players who win big and win consistently — like Williams and Novak Djokovic — are those whose stories take up many of the oxygen.

But is there one other more satisfying way of sports?

Is the N.B.A. at its best when the Golden State Warriors are within the finals, 12 months after 12 months, and winning the league title, in 4 out of eight seasons?

Did we only care in regards to the N.F.L. when the Recent England Patriots were bullying everyone in sight?

Simone Biles had her well-documented struggles on the Tokyo Olympics, but how cool was it to look at Sunisa Lee emerge from relative obscurity and win gold within the all-around event?

The U.S. Open was very likely the tennis star’s last skilled tournament after a protracted profession of breaking boundaries and obliterating expectations.

  • Glorious Goodbye: Whilst Serena Williams faced profession point, she placed on a gutsy display of the facility and resilience which have kept fans cheering for nearly 30 years.
  • The Magic Ends: Zoom into this composite photo to see details of Williams’s final moment on Ashe Stadium at this U.S. Open.
  • Her Fans: We asked readers to share their memories of watching Williams play and the emotions that she stirred. There was no shortage of submissions.
  • Sisterhood on the Court: Since Williams and her sister Venus burst onto the tennis scene within the Nineties, their legacies have been tied to one another’s.

In men’s tennis, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Djokovic are pure genius. Bless the Big Three. But after reigning over the sport for nearly twenty years, each certainly one of this trio feels past his due date.

Despite Monday’s stunning loss to Frances Tiafoe, Nadal may play for a minimum of one other 12 months. Djokovic looks like he has no plans to decelerate until he’s 70. Federer says he’ll give it one last hurrah when he can return from one more knee injury.

All to the nice, unless, like me, you would like some spice and variety and also you like not knowing with near one hundred pc certainty who’s going to dominate every big tournament.

During the last several days, I hung out in Manhattan, randomly asking strangers what they knew about Iga Swiatek, the highest women’s seed on the U.S. Open. The usual response was a quizzical, dumbfounded look. “Who?”

Swiatek, a 21-year-old from Poland, won her second French Open in June. She also won 37 straight matches this 12 months, the longest such streak within the twenty first century.

She has a compelling, all-court game. She is intelligent, contemplative, and fascinating.

But let’s face it, outside of tennis fans, in America, arguably essentially the most critical market in tennis due to its size and spending power, Swiatek isn’t well-known. She doesn’t seem poised to fill the void left by Serena Williams. But that’s wonderful. No player will. The sport, with its drama, athleticism and skill, should have the ability to draw fans.

It’s been interesting to look at the matches at Flushing this week, not only on the large courts but on the outskirts of this glammed-up tennis mecca — which, unlike, say, lush and intimate Wimbledon, has the feel and appear of public tennis courts on steroids, with a looming football stadium stuck in the center.

Serena’s influence is all over the place. Remember how she spoke of “evolving” away from tennis? What an ideal word, because that’s what she has done for tennis. She’s been the prime force in its evolution.

You possibly can see her fingerprints in every women’s match. The powerful, percussive groundstrokes hit from every corner. The biting serves. The aggressive, swinging volleys. The strength and speed. Virtually every player looks like they might be competing within the Olympic Heptathlon.

Women’s tennis has never contained this much depth. Yes, you may watch the young and talented Coco Gauff, 18, ranked twelfth, now into her first U.S. Open quarterfinals on Tuesday, and make the plain comparison to a young Serena Williams due to their race — and since Gauff has steadily pointed to Serena and Venus for laying down the trail for her tennis journey.

It helps that Gauff also has the identical type of ambitious grit. As she got here from behind in each set of her Sunday match against China’s Zhang Shuai, Gauff channeled Serena’s moxie, giving a Dikembe Mutombo finger wag, pumping her fists, flying from corner to corner to hit groundstrokes that echoed with a boom across Arthur Ashe Stadium.

But throughout this tournament the grounds have been crammed with competitors just like the 86th ranked player on this planet, Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska — who, like so many other, credits Serena Williams for sparking her love for tennis as a lady. The shots that fly off Yastremska’s racket, no surprise, appear to be they’re ripping out of a cannon.

Serena isn’t truly gone from the game. She left quite a bit behind and stays a part of tennis in a profound way. Her influence is all around the grounds.

But that the void she left can’t be filled and doesn’t must be.

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