Serena Williams

The careers of the greatest sister act in tennis are nearing their end. If these were ordinary times, that would be major news in the sports world. But the COVID-19 pandemic has turned everything upside down, including the sports scene. With pro basketball and hockey playoffs extended into the fall, the baseball season reduced to 60 games, and both pro and college football battling outbreaks and postponements, tennis has also seen its season completely altered.

There was no Wimbledon this year, and no fans allowed at the US Open. Then last week at the French Open both Serena and Venus Williams had very early exits. Serena Wlliams’ season is probably over now, and certainly her bid to get a 24th Grand Slam title is done for 2020. She withdrew from the French Open last Wednesday before a second-round match due to an injured Achilles heel. This happened three weeks ago during her semifinal loss at the U.S. Open. 

About an hour before she was scheduled to play Tsvetana Pironkova Williams announced she simply couldn’t go any longer. She told the Associated Press and ESPN that her injury had not had “enough time to properly heal.” She felt she would need “four to six weeks of sitting, doing nothing.” Williams added that this did not mean she wasn’t going to play in 2021 or that retirement was approaching, only that it was “more than likely” she would not be playing another tournament the remainder of this season. It was her earliest departure from any Grand Slam event since 2014, when she was beaten in the second round of the French Open in Paris. At 39, Williams has long since ended any discussion over whether she’s the greatest woman player of the Open era, She’s still managed to reach the finals in four recent Grand Slam tournaments, but has lost each time. She needs one more Slam to tie Margaret Court’s record.

“I love playing tennis, obviously. I love competing,” Williams said in response to questions about her future. “And I love being out here. It’s my job; been my job. And I’m pretty good at it still,” Williams said. “So until I feel like I’m not good at it – then I’ll be like, ‘Oh, OK.’ And I’m so close to some things, I just feel like I’m almost there, so I think that’s what keeps me going.”

Meanwhile at that same tournament, older sister Venus was losing in the first round for the seventh time in her past 11 major tournaments. Venus Williams was defeated by Karolina Schmiedlova 6-4, 6-4 before a handful of spectators. At 40, it’s been quite a while since Venus Williams was in the Grand Slam winners circle.

So it’s easy sometimes for fans to forget that she’s a seven-time Grand Slam champion, and was a pioneer and trailblazer in getting equal prize money for women in tennis. Together the Williams sisters have had far more clout and impact beyond their combined 30 Grand Slam victories. They’ve made enormous strides for women athletes, and in particular Black women athletes, excelling in a spot that is still trying to rid itself of its country club, elitist trappings and image.

They have been the face of both women’s and American tennis for so many years it seems hard to remember now that there was a time when they weren’t involved in the sport. But now that they are on the back end of their careers, no one should forget how important they’ve been throughout the years, and what changes have resulted as a direct result of their efforts and their accomplishments, on and off the tennis courts.