Tuesday served up huge news in the tennis world: Serena Williams announced she has decided to “evolve away” from the sport and instead focus on her family and business pursuits.
In a first-person piece published by Vogue magazine, the tennis star explained that her decision is complicated. “Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family,” Williams wrote.
Nevertheless, she said, “These days, if I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter,” adding, “I’m turning 41 this month, and something’s got to give.”
But she’s not done yet: Williams is expected to play in the U.S. Open, which runs from Aug. 20 through Sept. 11. It’s the last Grand Slam tournament of the year and what she says will be the last of her career. Williams has won the event six times in singles and was a runner-up four times.
Grid took a moment to examine Williams’ impressive statistics and create a visualization of her remarkable career. And what is shows is that Williams is pretty much the game, set, match queen of the tennis world.
Since getting her first world ranking in 1999, Williams typically remained in the top 10 list among her fellow singles players each year.
What’s notable about Williams is that when she has been down, it often hasn’t been due to a tennis slump. The valleys in the graph above can be explained by health issues she’s faced: In 2006, she was off the court. She stated publicly that she suffered a knee injury, but she later revealed in an autobiography that she experienced depression. In 2011, Williams suffered a life-threatening pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in her lungs) that caused her to miss the first half of the year’s matches, according to the Guardian. She also took time during and after her pregnancy to care for her daughter, Olympia, in 2017.
The chart above shows Serena’s enduring presence as a top player in women’s tennis throughout much of her multi-decade career.
She spent about 25 percent of her time on the professional court as the number one player, according to week-by-week rankings data released by the Women’s Tennis Association. But she also ranked in the top 10 of all players — among the many hundreds of fellow professionals in competition each year — for 75 percent of her career, the data show.
Williams has also won more Grand Slam singles titles (23) in the professional era than any person in men’s and women’s tennis, according to the Associated Press. Only one person has collected more; Margaret Court (24), however, a portion of Court’s titles were attained in the amateur era.
She has had a 365-55 record in grand slam singles matches, an 87 percent winning percentage. That ranks her sixth in history, among greats such as Steffi Graf, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
A force and role model off the court, too
One of the most powerful aspects of her legacy is one that isn’t reflected in the numbers: She accomplished all of these things while being a Black woman. Her race meant that she had to endure comments and microaggressions that her peers did not. She served as an inspiration for Black people everywhere who have to endure prejudice and, yet, still managed to be magnificent. As poet and essayist Claudia Rankine said succinctly, yet powerfully: “The notable difference between Black excellence and white excellence is white excellence is achieved without having to battle racism. Imagine.”
Williams ended the Vogue article with a discussion about her legacy, explaining that she hopes the world will think of her as “symbolizing something bigger than tennis.” She also had a message to her fans.
“I’m terrible at goodbyes — the world’s worst. But please know that I am more grateful for you than I can ever express in words. You have carried me to so many wins and so many trophies. I’m going to miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis,” Williams said. “And I’m going to miss you.”
Thanks to Alicia Benjamin for copy editing this article.