Serena Williams AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

Even though this past weekend marked the start of the first really big week of the college football season, the biggest story in sports happened Friday night on a tennis court. There perhaps the greatest career in the sport came to an end, even though there were some suggestive comments made that indicated a return might happen someday. But assuming that comeback doesn’t occur, Serena Williams has ended a career unmatched in her sport and arguably in any other.

Williams was defeated by Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in a thrilling 7-5, 6-7 (7-4), 6-1 third round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium. It took more than three hours, but Tomljanovic finally closed out the match in the third, ending what will most likely wind up the most watched match of the entire U.S. Open.

For Williams, who’d already announced weeks ago that the U.S. Open would be her swan song, she addressed the crowd and summarized her final ride in this fashion. “Thank you so much, you guys were amazing today. I wish I played a little bit better. Thank you daddy, I know you’re watching. Thanks mom,” Williams said on the court. “I just thank everyone that’s here, that’s been on my side so many years, decades. Oh my gosh, literally decades. But it all started with my parents, and they deserve everything, so I’m really grateful for them”

“These are happy tears, I guess! I don’t know. And I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t Venus, so thank you Venus.”

Her opponent, like so many other women players, had nothing but praise and admiration for Williams. “I’m feeling really sorry, just because I love Serena just as much as you guys do and what she’s done for me, for the sport of tennis is incredible,” Tomljanovic said. “I never thought that I’d have a chance to play her in her last match when I remember watching her as a kid in all those finals. This is a surreal moment for me.” But as she exited, Serena Williams left this last bit of suspense in regards to whether she might one day pick up a racket again. “I don’t think so but you never know,” she said when asked if she’ll come back. “I don’t know.”

Of course, Serena Williams certainly has absolutely nothing left to prove to anyone. She’s been a sensation since 1999, when she won her first USA Open. Among her numerous amazing feats was her majestic year of 2002-2003. That year she held all four Grand Slam titles at the same time over two calendar years. She won the 2002 French Open, the 2002 Wimbledon title, the 2002 US Open, and the 2003 Australian Open. In each of those finals, she had to beat her sister Venus to win the trophy. Williams would again win the Serena Slam in 2014-2015.

Some detractors point out that Serena Williams never won a calendar Grand Slam (winning all four majors in one season). But the rebuttal to that is that she was the first tennis player in history to achieve a Career Golden Slam (winning all four majors and the Olympic gold medal) in singles and doubles. She was so great as a singles player that sometimes folks forget how great she was as a doubles partner to Venus. As a doubles team, they remain undefeated in Grand Slam finals, winning 14 and never losing a single one.

Serena Williams spent 319 weeks as the WTA’s No. 1 tennis player in the world. Only Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova spent more time at the top.  While she often chose to focus on Grand Slams instead of playing extensively on the WTA tour, she still won 73 singles titles, which ranks her fifth all-time in women’s tennis history. She captured 23 Grand Slam titles, the most in the Open Era, and one behind Margaret Court for the all-time record.

However numerical achievements hardly tell the story of Serena Williams’ importance. As a Black woman and an outspoken one, as well as a fierce competitor and champion, she drew her share of racist abuse. Following a controversial loss to Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open, an Australian newspaper printed a racist cartoon of Williams, using racial stereotypes to portray her as overly muscular and animalistic with with an ape-like face and huge lips, while Osaka was drawn as a blonde white woman, which was also an offensive slam at Osaka.No, she wasn’t perfect, but far too much of the criticism aimed at Serena Williams (and by extension Venus and their father Richard) came because his daughters were Black women who dared to challenge the white female norms of the sport.

The notion that because Serena Williams didn’t break Margaret Court’s record of total Grand Slams she’s somehow inferior to her is both laughable and contemptible. Neither Margaret Court or any other woman ever won a Grand Slam title while eight weeks pregnant, as Serena Williams did at the 2017 Australian Open. That feat alone should silence any of those doubting her place at the top of the tennis ladder, or questioning any aspect of her legacy.

Serena Williams retires as unquestionably the greatest woman tennis player in history, and arguably not just the greatest tennis player period, but the finest athlete thus far in the 21st century.