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Serena Williams
It was a difficult press conference for Serena WilliamsImage: Rob Prezioso/AP Photo/picture alliance

Twilight of a great career

Marko Langer
February 18, 2021

Serena Williams' loss in the Australian Open semifinals, and her prolonged farewell to the crowd, brought up questions of her possible impending retirement. Can the queen of tennis conjure up an appropriate farewell?

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The good news first: Serena Williams is not retiring. Not yet, anyway.

She'll never be able to escape the limelight, that's how important the 39-year-old and her 23 Grand Slams are to tennis. When Serena plays, the tennis world is transfixed.

Now, the bad news: Serena Williams doesn't seem capable of quitting. After returning from giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia, Williams has been chasing what would be a record-equaling 24th Grand Slam title. Yet she hasn't won a final since the Australian Open in 2017, and has lost four deciders in that time.

Margaret Court's historic record still eludes Williams, who wore a "Queen" necklace during this year's Australian Open.

Instead, Williams has had to listen and watch as her younger peers pay tribute to her legacy. Just like Japan's Naomi Osaka did after seeing off Williams in straight sets at this year's Australian Open semifinals.

Press conference tears

After the defeat, Williams sat in the press conference and answered journalists' questions with an air of detachment. Finally, when asked whether this may have been her last tournament in Melbourne, she replied with a smile: "I don't know. If I ever say farewell, I wouldn't tell anyone."

Then came the next question: Whether she'd just had an off day, after a match riddled with unforced errors.

"I don't know. I'm done," she replied before exiting the presser.

Australian Open: Day 11 Serena Williams 2021
Naomi Osaka was simply too strong for SerenaImage: Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

Let me entertain you!

According to the WTA (Women's Tennis Association), the American has earned some $93 million (€77 million) in career prize money. That's probably only a fraction of her income since she turned professional in 1995 at the age of just 14. Her 73 titles including 23 Grand Slams make her indisputably the best player since Steffi Graf graced the world's tennis courts. At 39, she's still able to make the semifinals of the Australian Open. And when she doesn't, she graces the pages of Vogue and cameos in Beyonce music videos. A natural-born entertainer.

But the tennis queen has slipped down to 11th in the world rankings. She's been here before, but fought back. Now, however, she's lacking those big victories to elevate her back to the top. She still possesses the ability to keep any — really, any — male opponent in check with her powerful shot. But she can't hide from the fact that she lacks the sprightliness and agility of her early years.

She is, after all, 39 years old. Her own princess, Alexis Olympia, is three. Williams' opponent in the semifinals, Naomi Osaka, is 23. Osaka has once again destroyed the dreams of her idol. No one can forget that memorable victory against Williams in the 2018 US Open,  where Osaka stole the show as a humble winner of the Grand Slam final showdown.

Australian Open: Day 11 Serena Williams 2021
Serena's farewell to the Australian crowd was an emotional oneImage: William West/AFP/Getty Images

An elegant end

Had Williams won that semifinal in Melbourne, the route would have been wide open for that elusive 24th Grand Slam against inexperienced compatriot Jennifer Brady. Williams knows this, which would explain her strong reaction in the press conference. But a 6-3 6-4 loss is not exactly what you'd call a close result. When Serena left the Rod Laver Arena, she waved a prolonged goodbye to the crowd with her hand on her heart.

It's assumed that she won't retire just yet. But you could wish her one thing: that she doesn't end up like long-time rival Maria Sharapova, who played on and couldn't keep up with Williams at all. Serena should look for an elegant way to finish a great career. And when it comes, it will be another spectacle that captivates the tennis world.

This article was translated from German by Janek Speight.

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