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Serena Williams prepares to retire as US Open ends Slam year

Updated: 2022-08-29 08:58
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Rennae Stubbs coaches Serena Williams during practice in preparation for the 2022 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 28, 2022 in the Queens borough of New York City. [Photo/Agencies]

NEW YORK — Thanks to Serena Williams, this US Open will be like none other.

Whether or not it actually does turn out to be the final event of her lengthy, storied and influential playing career — and in professional tennis, perhaps more than in any other sport, goodbyes sometimes end up being see-you-agains — the two-week hard-court tournament that begins Monday at Flushing Meadows and wraps up the 2022 Grand Slam calendar will be, first and foremost, about Williams.

As long as she remains in the field, at least. Williams faces Danka Kovinic, a 27-year-old from Montenegro, in Arthur Ashe Stadium in the first round of singles Monday night and also is entered in doubles with her sister, Venus.

The focus on Williams is fitting, because so much of the past two decades, and then some, of tennis, in general, and at the US Open, in particular, have been about Williams, who turns 41 next month.

There is that unmistakable skill with a racket in hand and indiminishable drive to be the best that led to 23 major singles championships, the No. 1 ranking and Olympic gold medals, and that transcendent, attention-demanding quality that made her a celebrity as much as a superstar athlete.

"In my view, she revolutionized tennis," said Chris Evert, who won 18 majors in the 1970s and 1980s. "She revolutionized the power in the game. And I feel like she really inspired women of color, because we've seen a lot more women of color playing the game. And I think that she's changed the way women compete, as far as it's OK to be ferocious and passionate and vocal out there, emotional out there on the court, and still be a woman."

The ways in which Williams — and, to be sure, 42-year-old Venus, the owner of seven Slam singles titles herself and Serena's partner for 14 major doubles trophies — changed the game are varied and numerous, and extend beyond the way their speedy serves and booming groundstrokes prompted, or even forced, other players to try to either match that style or figure out how to try to counter it.

"There was something inside both of them," said Rick Macci, a tennis coach who worked with both Williams siblings in the early 1990s, starting before they were teenagers.

"When we competed or did competitive drills, I just saw something I never saw. They tried so hard to get to a ball, they almost fell over. Now you can try hard; that doesn't mean you're going to be world champion. But it was just another level."

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