I’ve been a whole mess this week watching Serena Williams play in the last tournament of her career at the US Open as she begins to evolve away from tennis. Every point is so stressful! And can you even imagine that kind of spotlight? This is her show right now – because she is the Greatest of All Time, the best the sport has ever seen, and she’s been doing this for almost 25 years! People are there to see her, people are there to say goodbye, people are there to appreciate what she’s accomplished, what she’s brought to the game.
For Serena, then, as usual, she’s dealing with more than just the actual pressure to compete, which is already a lot. There’s also the pressure of everyone’s expectations, that fantasy of a storybook ending. How does she live up to all that? How does she balance what she envisions for herself, her own goals, her own dreams, with the dreams of all the people out there who don’t have to hit the ball back and keep it within the white lines?
She said it last night in the post-match interview: she tries her best and has “nothing to prove […] and nothing to lose”. For her the US Open is a bonus. “I just feel like I have had a big red X on my back since I won the U.S. Open in ’99,” Williams said. “It’s been there my entire career, because I won my first Grand Slam early in my career. But here it’s different. I feel like I’ve already won, figuratively, mentally.”
So there’s no concern here about jinxes or superstition. Serena is there to experience it one last time. That’s why, instead of maximising rest between singles matches and letting her body recover, she’s also playing doubles with Venus and it will likely also be the last time they play together professionally as Venus too could be moving away from the game. As The New York Times said today, and as Venus and Serena have always said, “From Start to Finish, Venus and Serena Always Had Each Other”.
So while winning would be nice, of course, it’s not the primary focus. Serena isn’t worrying about the part of the story she can’t control.
Yours in gossip,