Serena Williams is set to play her final tournament of her career at the U.S. Open in just a few days. Her legacy is paramount to the sports landscape we live in today. Her talent, presence, and impact on the sport of tennis and just the African-American society as a whole can’t be understated.
She is one of the greatest athletes of all-time, and without her there would probably be a few black athletes missing in the future. Just like without her predecessors there wouldn’t be Venus and Serena Williams.
One of the athletes who paved the way for Serena was Althea Gibson. In 1950, she broke the tennis color barrier and became the first Black American to play in the National Tennis Championship. She was also the first Black woman to win Wimbledon, and a U.S Open.
Gibson, who was a tennis pioneer, also won singles tournaments in both the U.S Open and the French Open, becoming the first African-American woman to win a Grand Slam tournament.
Gibson won 56 singles and doubles titles, including five Grand Slam singles titles. She also won three consecutive doubles titles at the French Open from 1956-58, and she also would go on to repeat as singles winner in the U.S Open in 1957 and 1958.
Due to her success, she was named The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1957, becoming the first black person to win this award. Gibson is a trailblazer for the game of tennis. Before Serena dared to be great, Gibson did it in a much more contentious racial atmosphere in this country.
So it comes as no surprise to anyone when Venus and Serena Williams paid homage and tribute to Althea throughout their careers. They were of course, the next Black women to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, respectively.
It’s safe to say that without Gibson’s groundbreaking talents, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be spoiled by the Williams sisters’ greatness. The best way for these two sisters to repay a debt that honestly cannot be compensated was to further the game of tennis and change the game themselves. That’s exactly what Venus and Serena did by rising out of the Compton slums to become trendsetters, truly making the game of tennis universally popular and must-see TV for the masses.
“Even with historical breakthroughs from people like Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe and contemporary visibility from the Zina Garrisons and James Blakes of the world, tennis never resonated like basketball or boxing until Venus and Serena were running things. They became iconic figures in Black America due to athletic success, commercial viability and cultural honesty.” — The Shadow League, March 15, 2021
Serena Williams‘ success in her craft is parallel to that of a LeBron James or a Jackie Robinson, but what she has done for women empowerment and bringing the game of tennis to the front and center of the public eye is unparalleled.
Like Gibson did for a smaller percentage of women in the ’50s and ’60s, Serena is doing so now for millions of people. She made tennis popular and attractive to young Black folks and in doing so inspired hundreds of thousands of people to become the best athletes they can be.
Witnessing one of the greatest athletes of all time retire is always a saddening event because we know the moments and greatness that was displayed in front of our eyes are now waning.
But Serena is ready to take on her next challenge in life, and, luckily, we all will have one more major tournament to celebrate her legacy and cheer her on, as she takes her last stab at tying Margaret Court’s all time majors mark of 24. The last tournament of Serena Williams’ career begins Monday, Aug. 29, against Danka Kovinic. Williams is just one major victory behind the all-time mark of 24, set by Margaret Court.
Serena has been chasing that elusive win for more than a half decade and even if she doesn’t finish her career with a title, even she understands that numbers don’t always tell the entire story.
“I’ve already broken the record,” Williams said, speaking to the “Today” show. “So I think it’s just someone else’s vision and mine is just to … I never dreamed of having this many Grand Slams or titles. I just thought I would just play tennis and maybe win a Grand Slam or two. So for me, it’s all a bonus.”
The 40-year-old has earned her championships in the Open era of tennis, when professionals were allowed to compete in Grand Slam tournaments, unlike the period in which Court competed, so Williams’ accomplishments are definitely held in higher esteem.
She’s also a huge inspiration to Black women who break barriers and ascend in all sports.
In the eyes of sports fans, she’s already The GOAT, and, like Althea Gibson, she’s inspired a new generation of young Black tennis stars from Coco Gauf to Naomi Osaka to Sloane Stephens.