Dear Serena — Celebrating the GOAT’s 40th — Must-click women’s tennis links
The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, September 28, 2021
You probably won’t see this and I doubt you’ve ever seen my name, but there’s not enough thanks in the world I can give to you. I know so many have told you this, but without you, I honestly don’t know where I would be. Without you, I wouldn’t have found the sport of tennis, something I eat, sleep and breathe. I wouldn’t have found an abundance of friends all over the world and I know for a fact I wouldn’t have had the career or trajectory I’ve had. It’s crazy to think the impact someone I’ve really only ever observed from afar has had such a profound impact on me.
I can pinpoint the exact day things changed — June 8, 2002. I was 10 years old watching my favorite channel, CNN Headline News. I know you’re thinking……”really?” I was a nerd, okay? Even if every hour was essentially a loop, an update came in from Paris of two sisters playing the Roland Garros final. It was really the first time I had ever seen tennis and, as a twin, I found it so cool to see two siblings battling one-on-one.
I had tried different sports growing up, including football and lacrosse, which lasted weeks before sticking with soccer. However, I never enjoyed it and found it too slow-paced for me. Right away, I asked my parents to take me to Wal Mart where I got some cheap Wilson racquet and balls and started wailing against the garage. After the first hit, I was enamored and could not get enough of it, eventually getting to the point where I was denting the garage as I imagined taking on your power.
The rest was simply history. I joined the sport as you were truly beginning your ascent towards the top of the history books. I remember watching you clinch the World No. 1 ranking the following month at Wimbledon and I can still imagine sitting in my kitchen getting a haircut as your unveiled your historic catsuit at the US Open. It wasn’t only the on-court results that made me a fan, but your resilience off as well. From reading your story at the beginning in the streets of Compton, to the 2001 Indian Wells incident to your sisters murder, it’s astounding how you’ve turned your life’s hardest moments into your biggest motivators.
In 2004, weeks after you tore your ab in the WTA Finals championship match, I finally got to watch you play in person. It was your McDonald’s exhibition tour with Venus and you took the court in Atlanta and after, I was eager enough to push my way down to get an autograph. All I remember is you thanking me for the well wishes on your injury for Australia and lo and behold, you capturing yet another Grand Slam. That following year, you struggled with a lot of injuries, but I won’t forget the iconic reality show you did. I beg you to do another one.
I never wavered in my support for you, when pretty much the sport had before that incredible 2007 Australian Open run or when in the following years you decided to play on your own schedule and pursue more of your passions outside of the tennisphere. More injuries and health issues would come your way as you battled death’s door from a pulmonary embolism and hematoma to make it back on tour just under a year later. I remember gripping my chair watching live scores during a lecture in college as you were fighting but ultimately losing your first-ever first round match at a Grand Slam. I think that was when the tennis world really thought of you as a has-been. Don’t worry, I never did.
Over the next few years, you would be perhaps even better than when you captured your first Serena Slam. Rededicated and redominating, it was a joy to see you lift trophy after trophy. By the time 2015 rolled around, I was working at the WTA and you were trying to achieve the one thing you hadn’t gotten — the Calendar Grand Slam. I remember the prep work everyone was doing as the US Open was getting closer to the final, but it wasn’t meant to be. I was devastated for you, but being a supporter of yours, I knew that there was a purpose for everything and your impact far outweighs a technical record. You’ve held all four majors at once — twice. I honestly don’t think I will see that again from anyone, male or female, for the rest of my lifetime.
My appreciation for you reached new heights when you claimed Slam No. 23, for me cementing your place atop the WTA history books. Sure, Margaret Court has 24, but half of those titles have asterisks. You had to play seven opponents each time with a massive target on your back and honestly, nobody can relate to that. It then came out that you played, and won, that 2017 Australian Open pregnant. When you accidentally leaked your own news, I could only laugh, then wonder if I were ever going to see you on a court again. Thank you for proving me wrong. You had to knock on death’s door once more giving birth, but you made it back on tour and have been among the top players since 2018. Constant Slam semis and finals and making your way deep into draws, but also carving out a bigger legacy off of the court. Through your documentary or your Serena Ventures endeavors or simply your fashion brands, you constantly reinvent yourself. I really don’t think you get enough credit for the grit, determination and dedication you put not only into your tennis, but your projects as well.
I’ve probably rambled enough, yet there’s probably another five paragraphs I could write about how you’ve molded me on and off of the court. I bounce the ball five times before a first serve and two before the second just for you. I’m not afraid to scream “COME ON” on an important point or to pump myself up. I’m also not scared to defend myself against my opponent. Some may call it dramatic, but it’s not only passion, but the self-love you have for yourself to stand up for what’s right.
There’s not enough thanks and praise in the world I can give to you, honestly. The work you’ve done for those in the Compton community, hell even all over the world, is something I truly admire about you. The projects you attach your name to come from more than just a paycheck, you truly think about all aspects of the company, item, etc. you promote.
I know as we end the 2021 season that the on-court time we have for you is closer to ending than ever before. While you allude to returning next season, I truly hope that’s the case. You deserve better than the last match you played at Wimbledon — and should choose to leave on your own terms. You don’t have to win another tournament, Grand Slam, even a single match for the rest of your life. You’re one of a kind and the blueprint of what a GOAT really is. You’re not only the best tennis player, male of female, of all time, but to me the greatest athlete. Period. Your stepping on the court forever changed the tennis landscape and you’ve worked hard to make sure you used your likeness and power to make the real world a better place.
Thank you so, so, so much,
This Week in Women’s Tennis
In case you don’t read anything else, please read Aaron Dodson’s feature on Serena Williams’ first endorsement with Puma. Honestly, her most iconic looks were with the brand and the behind-the-scenes look at how it came to fruition and where it went is *chefs kiss*
Anett Kontaveit captured her second title in four weeks by winning the J&T Banka Ostrava Open over Maria Sakkari in straight sets. Sania Mirza and Zhang Shuai won the doubles title with a two-set win over Kaitlyn Christian and Erin Routliffe. Kontaveit spoke with WTA Insider for a Champions Corner and shared how she rediscovered the joy of the game, the benefactor behind her recent results.
Nuria Párrizas Díaz’s late-career surge continued as she won her second WTA 125 event at the Tennis Ohio Championships, taking a straight-sets win over Wang Xinyu. Xinyu and Zheng Saisai won the doubles title over Párrizas Díaz and Dalila Jakupovic.
This week, the WTA is hosting tournaments in Chicago and Nur-Sultan. Kim Clijsters opened up about restarting her comeback in Chicago, while Ana Konjuh is no longer seen as a comeback kid, but looking to continue the momentum she’s built since returning from multiple surgeries.
The biggest ranking news was that Maria Sakkari made her Top 10 debut, another historic achievement for the country of Greece. She also made strides in the Porsche Race to WTA Finals in hopes of qualifying for Guadalajara.
Simona Halep celebrated her 30th birthday, but also announced a surprising split from coach of six years, Darren Cahill. Though the Romanian has struggled with injury, it’s a pretty shocking announcement. Perhaps Cahill could be the next coach for Emma Raducanu, who split from coach Andrew Richardson following their successful summer campaign that brought the Brit her first Grand Slam at the US Open. The 18-year-old is wanting someone with tour experience, plenty of which Cahill carries.
As of right now, Dubai and Doha will be the hosts of the 2022 Australian Open qualifying event and honestly, I’m here for it. The tournament is the “Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific,” so they should try to include more than just Australia in their tournament. Is the Middle East the best option? Right now, yes because of COVID, but I wouldn’t mind seeing an Asian country alternate hosting the qualifying section.
Emma Raducanu is Hall of Fame-bound….kind of:
Katarina Srebotnik was honored by the Guinness Book of World Records in Potoroz for being the only tennis player to win their debut events in all three disciplines — singles, doubles and mixed doubles. The Slovenian won her first WTA doubles title in 1998 in Makarska, Croatia and in 1999, won the Estoril Open in her singles debut. Six weeks later, she captured the 1999 Roland Garros mixed doubles crown. The achievement hasn’t been matched by a male or female since.
In the latest episode of Crosscourt, Elena Vesnina and Fabio Fognini discuss the challenges of being a parent and a professional tennis player simultaneously.
Happy 51st anniversary, Original 9! O9 member Julie Heldman penned a reflection following the group’s induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame
I found this chat between Ajla Tomljanovic and IMG agent Max Eisenbud pretty cool. It’s not often you get to hear about the thought process or relationship an agent has with their player. I hope IMG, and other agencies, do more transparent one-on-ones.
Tweet of the Week
This was just too good
Five at The IX: Celebrating Serena’s 40th
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
By: Sarah Kellam, @sarahkellam, LPGA.com
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08, NWHL Broadcaster
By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer