Serena Williams’ retirement heralds sunset of sport’s golden age

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The likely end to Serena Williams’ tennis career has left the game at the start of the end of the sport’s golden age, a dreaded prospect that has long loomed on the horizon.

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The American, who turns 41 this month, bid farewell to the US Open with a third round loss to Australian Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday in what may have been the final singles match of his brilliant career.

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Although Williams left the door slightly open on an unlikely return, his apparent departure – not unexpected, given Williams’ struggles with form and injuries over the past 12 months – would have sent shivers down the spine of administrators and organizers. tennis.

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“She’s at the box office,” summed up former UK number one Greg Rusedski on Sky Sports after Williams informed the world of her decision last month in a Vogue article.

Serena Williams of the United States waves to the crowd after a match against Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia on day five of the 2022 US Open tennis tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center on May 2 September 2022.
Serena Williams of the United States waves to the crowd after a match against Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia on day five of the 2022 US Open tennis tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center on May 2 September 2022. Photo by Danielle Parhizkaran /USA TODAY Sports

“She’s also carried women’s tennis for the past two decades with her sister Venus. You’ve obviously had other great players around them, but she brings your non-tennis fan to the sport.

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“If you know absolutely nothing about tennis, you know the name Serena Williams. She is iconic and we are losing an icon of our sport and we will really, really miss her.”

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But it won’t just be a loss for women’s tennis. Williams could be the first in a string of aging greats to end their playing careers in the near future.

Like Williams, the triumvirate of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic have dominated tennis over the past two decades and revolutionized the sport, attracting new and old fans and a long line of sponsors.

All continue to draw fans to the stands, mobile and TV screens even after two decades of touring, while their commercial appeal still mesmerizes brands and advertisers.

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Injuries to Williams, Federer and Nadal in recent years have repeatedly raised the question of their retirement. Fans and pundits have wondered how the sport will cope with the prospect of losing its most marketable athletes.

Federer, 41, has had several knee surgeries in the past two years and hasn’t played a competitive match since his fall in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year.

The 20-time major winner is only committed to playing in the Laver Cup this month and his hometown tournament in Basel in October. It’s still unclear if the father-of-four would be ready to re-engage in the rigors of touring.

At 36, Nadal is a bit younger, but a chronic foot problem has forced the Spaniard to consider retiring in 2021 and again this year after winning a men’s record 22nd major title at Roland Garros, playing with anesthetic injections before each match in Paris.

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Radiofrequency treatment eased his foot pain and allowed him to play at Wimbledon, but the southpaw is unsure if the injury will return.

Djokovic, 35, is the youngest of the lot, arguably the fittest and seems like the best bet to keep the flag flying for tennis’ older generation.

The Serb won his 21st major title at Wimbledon last month and made it clear he has no shortage of motivation to chase after more silverware.

While the so-called Big Three of the men’s game have continued to conjure the younger generation to major successes, Williams’ tennis career has been less productive over the past two years.

Her last Grand Slam triumph was in 2017 and she hasn’t won a WTA title since winning the ASB Classic in Auckland at the start of the 2020 season.

Despite all of this, Williams remained the biggest attraction in women’s tennis every time she stepped onto the court.

“She is an inspiration to many people around the world. She has given a lot to tennis, so we are lucky to have had such a great ambassador like Serena for so long,” Nadal said after the loss. Williams on Friday.

“She deserves to choose what’s right for her at this point in her life.”

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