The Dawn of an Era… and the End of a Great One

We all knew this day would come, and now here we are. For more than two decades, tennis fans have been treated to some of the greatest performances by two of the greatest athletes the sport has ever seen. With Serena Williams and Roger Federer both recently announcing their intention to retire from professional tennis, many fans around the world cannot help but feel that it is truly the end of an era. To put the significance of this moment into perspective, let’s start by looking at their accomplishments over the course of their careers. 

In 1995, Serena Williams began her professional tennis career at age 14, a year after her sister Venus began her professional career. Four years later in 1999, Serena won her first Grand Slam title when she defeated Martina Hingis at the U.S. Open. This victory would mark the beginning of a long stretch of dominance for Serena, as three years later in 2002, she won three Grand Slam titles by defeating Venus in the finals round of that year’s French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open tournaments. The 2000s were when Serena Williams really entered her prime and took over the sport. During this time, she held winning singles records against several of her peers, such as Jennifer Capriati, Justine Henin, and Maria Sharapova.

As Serena’s career progressed, she was consistently ranked as the number one women’s tennis player by the Women’s Tennis Association, finishing the year at the top spot on five separate occasions and holding that spot for a total of 319 weeks in her career. Williams has a singles career record of 858–156 and has won 23 Grand Slam titles including seven Australian Open titles, seven Wimbledon titles, six U.S. Open titles, and three French Open titles. Serena’s 23 Grand Slam championships are the most of the Open Era and second all-time to Margaret Court’s 24. Serena’s final Grand Slam title was in 2017 when she defeated her sister Venus in the finals round of the Australian Open, winning both sets 6–4. Serena’s final match came in this year’s U.S. Open where she was defeated by Alja Tomljanović 7–5, 6–7 (4), 6–1 in the third round, marking the end of her illustrious career. 

About three weeks after Serena Williams’ final match, Roger Federer played his final match alongside longtime rival Rafael Nadal, in a 6–4, 6–7 (2–7), 9–11 doubles loss against Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe at this year’s Laver Cup. Despite the two tennis greats coming up short in the match, it was a treat for tennis fans to see Roger and Rafa take the court one last time together, but this time as teammates. Following the match, Roger and Rafa embraced one another in what was a very emotional moment for the two, as well as for all fans of the sport, marking the end of one of sports’ most entertaining rivalries. 

When looking back on the career that Roger Federer had, the accolades speak for themselves. With eight Wimbledon titles, six Australian Open titles, five U.S. Open titles, and one French Open title, Federer ranks third of all time in Grand Slam titles with 20, trailing only Novak Djokovic’s 21 and Rafael Nadal’s 22. Federer also maintains a 1251–275 singles record and was ranked as the number one men’s tennis player by the Association of Tennis Professionals on five separate year-end lists, as well as for 310 weeks of his career.

Between these two legends retiring, this sport is losing an unprecedented amount of talent. For many fans of the sport, and especially for the younger generations who began watching tennis within the past twenty years, it is difficult to believe that two of the most dominant athletes of all time that made many fall in love with the sport are now saying farewell. 

Beyond their many accomplishments, the most impressive feat that both Williams and Federer have attached to their names is longevity. Historically, it is quite uncommon for tennis players to be playing at such a high level well into their thirties and forties, especially when taking into account that a sport like tennis is centered around the athlete’s first-step. However, Roger Federer, Serena Willliams, as well as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Venus Williams and several other tennis players have been able to defy these odds in recent years and sustain their excellence for an extended period of time. 

It certainly feels like we are entering a new era of tennis, as many of the players we grew up watching are retiring, but as we enter this new age, it is important to take the time to appreciate the greatness we have all been witnesses to for such a long time. 

Photo Courtesy of Kandukuru Nagarjun

One thought on “The Dawn of an Era… and the End of a Great One

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