Serena Williams’ Final On-Court Message Was Full Of Gratitude
The sports icon capped off her 27-year tennis career with a beautiful shoutout to family and fans.
One of the greatest athletes of all time just said goodbye to her sport — but not without the beautiful final moment she, her family, and fans deserved. In front of a giant, celebrity-filled U.S. Open crowd, Serena Williams played what she expects to be her last match on Friday, Sept. 2. The three-hour-long nail-biter ultimately went to Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in three competitive sets, but the night was all about Serena. Before Williams left the court, she looked back on the “incredible ride” and paid tribute to all those who were by her side, especially her parents and big sister Venus Williams.
Going into the 2022 U.S. Open, the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion had played just four singles matches since she suffered an injury at Wimbledon in June 2021. Still, Williams’ comeback looked like it might be on track for a fairy-tale ending after she defeated her first two opponents, including the current world No. 2, Anett Kontaveit. When she ultimately lost to Tomljanovic 5-7, 7-6, 1-6, she was clearly disappointed, but still grateful for her legendary 27-year career.
“I tried,” Williams told the crowd during her on-court interview immediately after the match, thanking them for their support. “If I would’ve just played a little bit better…”
The icon then went on to honor those who were with her even before her fans: her parents (and former coaches), Richard Williams and Oracene Price. “Thank you, Daddy. I know you’re watching. Thanks, Mom,” she added, getting emotional. “Just thank everyone that’s here, that’s been on my side for 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.”
And from there, of course, she had to honor her big sister and fellow tennis great Venus. “I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t Venus,” Williams added, “so thank you, Venus. She’s the only reason Serena Williams ever existed.”
Gratitude was a common theme in her speech. She went on to thank the rest of her family, team, and supporters, and credited them with helping her achieve everything she was able to during her groundbreaking career. “It’s been the most incredible ride and journey I’ve ever been on in my life,” she added, per CBS Sports. “I’m just so grateful to every single person that’s ever said ‘Go Serena’ in their life. I’m just so grateful because you got me here.”
And count her opponent among that group of people. Tomljanovic copped to “feeling really sorry” after beating Williams to keep her own U.S. Open hopes alive. “I love Serena just as much as you guys do,” she said. “What she’s done for me, for the sport of tennis is just incredible. I never thought I’d have a chance to play her in her last match when I was a kid watching her in all those finals. This is a surreal moment for me.”
In the leadup to the U.S. Open, Williams, 40, announced in Vogue that she is “evolving away from tennis” to pursue other interests that are important to her. (She has “never liked the word retirement,” she noted.) She and husband Alexis Ohanian share daughter Olympia, who turned 5 during the tournament, and she hopes to “grow that family.” Another big priority is her venture capital firm, Serena Ventures. Still, hanging up her racket is “the hardest thing that [she] could ever imagine,” she noted.
And it’s hard on the tennis world, too. Venus said it well in an Instagram post the day after Williams’ final match. “After 1 year after away from the game, there is still no one who can approach her level, her intensity her excitement, her entertainment,” she wrote in the caption. “There will never be another @serenawilliams her legacy lives on in all those she inspired to greatness, me included! No one has effected the game, or sport, the way she has. Tennis won’t be the same without its GOAT.”