It’s hard to imagine that’s how Serena Williams would end her career. There’s always the U.S. Open, where she won her first Grand Slam, where she’s rightly worshiped, where some of her biggest wins have come. And yet, it’s hard to see how the U.S. Open will go much better than Wimbledon, where she lost in three sets in the first round yesterday to Harmony Tan. Sure, she’ll get more match time and go to New York a little more polished. But to someone like Serena, losing in the third round probably isn’t much different than the first.
Williams battled back from down a break in the first set, served for the match in the third, and won the first four points of the third set tiebreak. None of it was enough. In a lot of ways, Tan was the worst kind of player Serena could face. Lacking anywhere near the power to hit through Serena, Tan was basically a junkballer, hurling any variety of slices, drops, lobs, and whatever else she found in the kitchen sink. Serena, lacking anywhere near tour-level singles-match timing (she had only played doubles in a Wimbledon prep this year) never got to clock any sort of speed consistently coming at her, as well as having to run from not just side-to-side but to the net and back as Tan brought her in and then sent her back. There is no way to be court-fit without being on court, and Serena hasn’t been on court in a singles match since the first round of Wimbledon last year. That was the match she tore her hamstring and had been out since that prep at Eastbourne. Even through a dominant second set she won 6-1, the third set so those hard miles Tan had put her through take their toll. Serena got looks, but the boulder always came back down the hill.
Serena doesn’t seem to know what the future is, and we can be sure she’ll do whatever she wants as she always has. We all had the image of Serena collecting No. 24, and then strutting off into the good night as only she could. But it doesn’t feel like her body is going to hold up for that. Then again, so few’s do. Pete Sampras made a lot of people think that it could always work out that way when he called it a day after a U.S. Open triumph. But that’s the exception.
It’s the kind of exit we can probably expect for Roger Federer, whether he returns in the fall as he’s hinted, or next year and retires in either one. He’ll be coming off three knee surgeries and an even bigger gap at the same age as Serena. There’s only so much you can ask. Rafael Nadal will probably see his career cut by his deteriorating foot, even if a recent surgery has provided a glimmer of hope. Andre Agassi could barely walk off Arthur Ashe with a back injury when he played his last match. Fuck, Boris Becker is in prison!
Serena’s determination and fitness allowed her to still take the court at 40, even though that seemed unfathomable for anyone five or ten years ago. Those things are a big reason she is the greatest player of all-time and was never going to just walk off in her early 30s. But there’s playing when you’re 40, and there’s being Serena when you’re 40. No one’s managed the latter, not even Serena.
If it is to be the end, the fact that she got back out there at all and can end her career with a racket in her hand instead of from a training table somewhere is a win in itself. Everyone should at least get to go out on their shield.
Dollars & some change
If you’d like to see how serious change can take place in sports when it comes to sexual assault and the cover-ups of it, look at Hockey Canada at the moment. Just yesterday, corporations like Telus, Canadian Tire, and Scotiabank have pulled various sponsorships and money out of Hockey Canada due to the fallout from the lawsuit the organization settled to disappear allegations that eight Hockey Canada Players raped a woman on a Hockey Canada golf outing.
One might wonder what Dan Snyder’s fate would be if more than Anheuser-Busch refused to work with the team. Or if the gambling companies, beer companies, and dick-pill companies decided to pause their checks if they didn’t think the impending punishment to Deshaun Watson was enough. Cash is the only thing that speaks to these people, perhaps it’s the only way.