By Eleanor Crooks, PA Tennis Correspondent, New York
Boyzone were top of the charts and more than a quarter of the women’s top 100 had not been born when Serena Williams made her US Open debut 24 years ago.
Already a superstar in the making at 16, Williams has been the talk of tennis ever since and will be celebrated as such at Flushing Meadows as she marks the end of one of the great sporting careers.
A few weeks short of her 41st birthday and keen to focus on trying to have a second child, Williams has decided, reluctantly, that now is the time to hang up her racket.
The Williams sisters in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 25, 2022
While she has played sparingly over the last few years and women like Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty and Iga Swiatek have staked their claim at the top of the game, Williams remained the alpha female of the tour and her retirement will leave an inescapable hole.
Most of her fellow competitors in New York have known only tennis with Williams in it.
Former US Open finalist Madison Keys told the PA news agency: “I grew up watching Serena, I idolised her forever and being able to play against her multiple times on the tour, those are still some of the most memorable matches that I’ve ever played and they will also be some of the most special moments that I’ve had on a tennis court.
“I’m going to be very sad to no longer see her playing tennis but I think she’s going to continue to do amazing things.
“She doesn’t want to use the word retirement and I’m not going to use the word retirement, I think it’s just truly evolving into the next part of her life and I think, as with everything she does, it’s going to be phenomenal and incredibly successful.”
As well as her family commitments, Williams has several business ventures, including an investment company that looks set to be at the centre of what she does next.
Williams announced her decision in a lengthy and considered article for Vogue earlier this month but has kept as low a profile as she has been able to since.
She admitted she is not fond of goodbyes and, after a tearful send-off in Toronto, she walked swiftly off court following a one-sided loss to Emma Raducanu in Cincinnati last week.
Williams’ practice sessions in New York so far have at least given hope that she can perform at a higher level when she takes on Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic in the first round.
“It’s going to be emotional for everybody and it’s hard to play when you know this is goodbye,” Martina Navratilova told PA. “I feel for her. I had a hard time getting the racket out of my racket bag for those last matches that I played. Hopefully it will be a good ending.”
Williams’ pursuit of the elusive 24th grand slam singles title that would tie her with Margaret Court at the top of the all-time charts has been a major factor in her carrying on so long.
The dream of the perfect ending appears unrealistic but Williams seems to have made peace with the idea she has achieved more than enough and the current crop of American women are testament to her huge influence.
Twelve of the top 100 are American while women’s tennis in particular has a far more diverse playing field than that day in 1998 when a black girl from Compton began her New York journey.
“You don’t even have to say her last name, everyone knows Serena,” added Keys. “If you ask 15 girls why they started playing tennis, maybe all of them say it’s because of her. She’s obviously going to leave a lasting legacy that people will talk about forever.”