Serena Williams' legacy extends far beyond the tennis court and her 23 Grand Slam titles.

A couple of days before Serena Williams won 22 of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon in 2016, she was asked what she thinks when people refer to her as one of the greatest athletes in history.

Her answer: She prefers to be characterized as “one of the greatest athletes of all time.”

That brief response from Williams said a lot: about her unique talent with a racket in hand, about her status as an icon, about her willingness to fight back, about why women’s sports shouldn’t be thought of differently from men’s sports.

All of that came back to me on Tuesday, when Williams indicated that he is preparing to leave. of his professional tennis career as the start of the US Open on August 29 approaches and his 41st birthday approaches next month.

Of course, with shouts of “Let’s go!” Leading the way, he won the most major singles championships in the professional era of tennis, which began in 1968; more than the 22 of Steffi Graf or Rafael Nadal, more than the 21 of Novak Djokovic, more than the 20 of Roger Federer, more than the 18 of Chris Evert or Martina Navratilova, more than anyone. And, yes, Williams won a total of 73 tour-level singles titles and spent more than six years of weeks ranked No. 1. And she combined with her older sister Venus to claim 14 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles. . And then there are the four Olympic gold medals. And so. And so.

Still, sheer numbers cannot capture all that Williams has stood for during a distinguished career that began as a teenager in the 1990s and is notable not just for successes but longevity, including a record 10 championships. important after turning 30 years.

“She has outlasted most, if not all, professional tennis players. She has transcended tennis and become a leader on many important cultural, social and gender issues. She has lived an extraordinary life,” Evert wrote in a text message to The Associated Press, “and she will undoubtedly continue to break the glass ceiling in the future.”

In fact, what Williams did without a racket in hand is quite noteworthy and extends beyond the millions in endorsement deals; dalliances with acting; interest in fashion design and penchant for taking the catwalk to the court in jumpsuits and knee-high boots and whatever else she decided to try; celebrity and place in pop culture; and, more recently, her work as a venture capitalist (“78% of our portfolio is companies started by women and people of color, because that’s who we are,” Williams said).

“It’s important to step back and think about everything Serena has brought to our sport and what she has accomplished both on and off the court,” said Steve Simon, WTA Women’s Tennis Tour Director. “She is one of the greatest champions, entrepreneur, mother, investor in women’s entrepreneurship and an inspiration to women and girls around the world.”

Williams spoke about being black in her sport (she was the first to win a Grand Slam since Althea Gibson in the 1950s) and in her country. She stayed away from a tournament in California for years after she and her father heard racist taunts there. She talked about being a woman in tennis, being a woman dealing with complications in childbirth, being a mother (her daughter, Olympia, turns 5 on Sept. 1 and Williams wants to have another baby).

She and Venus helped their sport reach a larger audience and helped bring a larger slice of society to their sport (Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old African-American who was a finalist at the French Open in May, said the Tuesday that she plays what she called “a predominantly white sport” because she “saw someone who looked like me dominating the game”).

“I don’t particularly like to think about my legacy. I get asked about it a lot and I never know exactly what to say,” Williams wrote in a post. essay published by Vogue magazine. “But I would like to think that thanks to the opportunities that are given to me, female athletes feel that they can be themselves on the court. They can play with aggression and raise their fists. They can be strong but beautiful. They can wear what they want and say what they want and kick ass and be proud of everything.”

To be sure, there were moments she was perhaps not so proud of, confrontations with match officials that led to her dropping a point or a game in US Open losses to Naomi Osaka and Kim Clijsters, perhaps the kind of episodes to the ones he was referring to. her at her rehearsal when she said, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career. Mistakes are learning experiences, and I embrace those moments. I am far from perfect, but I have also received a lot of criticism, and I would like to think that I went through difficult times as a professional tennis player so that the next generation can have it easier.

Her serve was a gift, as were the powerful groundstrokes that she and Venus, her opponent in nine Grand Slam all-in-the-family finals, made a permanent part of the game. So was an unwavering will and desire to always come out on top, whether the person crossing the net was Big Sis or anyone else, whether she was trying to score a point during a match or stand out in an interview.

“I want to be big. I want to be perfect,” Williams said. “I know that there is no such thing as perfect, but whatever my perfection is, I never wanted to stop until I got it right.”

In tennis, of course, and beyond.

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