US Open: Serena Williams’ last hurrah at home grand slam headlines fascinating two weeks of tennis – but what lies ahead? Photograph: John Storey/Action Images
On Friday, Serena Williams will play her final match at the US Open. It will be the last time – or first time – she will wear that white court suit, white socks and sneakers, and it will bring to an end a 20-year career that has seen the greatest tennis performance of our time, and the greatest rivalry of our time.
But there is a sense, though it is inescapable, that it will not bring closure. For Williams is not the first great athlete who has played his last match at the grand slam of his sport. And nor will she be the last. So, how is it that Williams can be the greatest athlete who ever played tennis at all (or had a great career), but will be forgotten as soon as the sun rises?
This is why we love tennis. It is not a sport to forget. It is not a sport to be forgotten. It is a sport that asks questions about time, about what is possible and about what is true, and about how we behave in the world. We love tennis because it is a sport that forces us to acknowledge that being great does not always mean great performance.
It is always tempting to think of Williams as a great tennis player: tall, strong and graceful, with the long, loose black hair of a figure-skater, the figure-skating, voluptuous look of a supermodel and the graceful, graceful movement of a ballet dancer – a perfect combination, but one for which she must be paid. But Williams is a sportswoman, not a tennis player. It is an athlete who has done everything except win at the highest level of her sport.
In this, she has become perhaps the best-known athlete in the world ever to have played tennis professionally, and in a way that made sense in the middle of a sport defined by being the most important women’s sport in the world. She has become the poster girl for athleticism. But she has become much more than a poster