Serena Williams’ teammates lined up to praise her impact on and off the court before her departure from tennis.
While she hasn’t completely closed the door on future appearances, the US Open appears to be her swan song, bringing down the curtain on a 27-year career.
The majority of the players at Flushing Meadows weren’t born when Williams made her professional debut in 1995 and only knew the sport with her as its dominant figure.
Inspired by Richard Williams’ success in raising two champion daughters, Naomi Osaka’s father followed his plan.
“I think her legacy is so rich that even words cannot describe it,” Osaka said.
“She changed the sport so much. She introduced the sport to people who had never heard of tennis. I think I’m a product of what she did. I wouldn’t be here without Serena, Venus, her whole family. I am very grateful to her.
“I honestly think she’s the greatest force in the sport. This is not intentionally trying to make Federer or Nadal smaller. I just think it’s the greatest thing there will ever be in sport.
“There were definitely a lot of barriers that I’m sure she had to fight to overcome. Because of her, we can now easily get through this.”
Williams’ influence as a black pioneer in the sport is a big part of her legacy, and her influence is reflected in the game’s diverse makeup today, particularly among American players.
Williams was already a six-time Grand Slam singles champion when Coco Gauff was born, and the 40-year-old’s attitude on and off the pitch had a major impact on her teenage compatriot.
“Before Serena came along, there wasn’t really an icon in the sport who looked like me,” Gauff said.
“Growing up I never thought I was different because the number one player in the world was someone who looked like me.
“Then, on a more personal level, I had to have a few conversations with her later in life. I think it’s just the way she treats herself. She never lays down. I love that she always raises herself.
“Sometimes, as a black woman in the world, you settle for less. I can’t remember a moment in her career or life where she would have settled for less. I am trying to learn not to settle for less.”
Williams has played sparingly in recent years and it’s hard to know what to expect when she takes on Danka Kovinic on Monday night.
After earning so many wins out of sheer competitive spirit, Williams is certainly not just in Flushing Meadows to soak up the praise, and she maintains an aura even though players now think they can beat her.
Iga Swiatek, the youngest woman to replace Williams as world number one, is trying to learn from the American’s attitude.
The young Pole said: “It’s still quite surreal when I see them. I still feel like a kid watching.
“Mentally she’s definitely the one who will show you how to exploit your position and how to intimidate when you’re number one. I try to do that. I don’t know if it’s going well or not. We’ll probably see in a few months, maybe next season.
“She is the great role model. Especially with how she deals with doing business and playing at the same time or being a mother and playing at the same time. It’s amazing.
“I think it’s great that we have someone like that in our sport who paved the way and showed us that you can achieve anything. The sky is the limit.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis/serena-williams-williams-richard-williams-work-iga-swiatek-b2154598.html Serena Williams is hailed by rivals as stars pay tribute ahead of US Open swan song