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Let Serena define her legacy as she leaves tennis behind

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NEW YORK — After all of the many tributes to Serena Williams, the celebratory words and video montages, the standing ovations and the shouting of her name, it seemed fitting that she herself give the defining look at her legacy.

So the final question at the press conference after her last US Open match – and, it seems clear, her career – offered Williams the chance to say how she would most like to be remembered. ‘she.

“I feel like I really brought something and I brought something to tennis. The different looks. The punches. The intensity just crazy. … ‘Passion’, I think, is a really good low word,” she replied Friday night. “I could go on and on. But honestly, I’m so grateful that I had this moment – ​​and that I’m Serena.”

It captures so much about her so well.

And to think: Williams, who turns 41 this month, hasn’t even mentioned anything about being an elite athlete or any of the stats that help define what she’s done with a racquet. by hand.

The 23 Grand Slam tournament championships that have defined success in his sport. Another 50 titles of singles from elsewhere. The 14 majors in doubles with her sister, Venus. The 319 weeks at No. 1. The four Olympic gold medals.

So, of course, it’s impossible to rate Williams without considering his place in the pantheon of superstars, as worthy as anyone – woman or man, of this generation or any other, of this sport or any other – from the honorary title “Greatest of All Time” (a clever spectator during Williams’ 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1 loss to Ajla Tomljanovic held up a poster with, simply, a drawing of a goat ).

“She’s an all-time great. Obviously that’s an understatement,” said Martina Navratilova, an 18-time major winner who is certainly part of this whole conversation.

But Williams is also much more than that.

No black woman had won a Slam title since Althea Gibson in the 1950s until Williams came along and collected her first at the 1999 US Open at the age of 17. In the more than two decades since, Williams and Venus, who have won seven major singles trophies of hers, get credit for inspiring Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka and countless others to play tennis. , yes, but also for having pushed many others to change their point of view on what can be done and what cannot.

“She embodies that no dream is too big,” said Tomljanovic. “You can do anything if you believe in yourself, love what you do, and have an incredible support system around you.”

There is more.

She won a Grand Slam title while pregnant, suffered frightening health complications after giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, in 2017, and would return to touring and reach four more major finals.

She has a venture capital firm that has raised over $100 million.

“Everyone looks at her and tries to be like Serena,” said Caroline Garcia, a 17th-seeded Frenchwoman in the fourth round of the US Open. “And I’m sure it will be for years to come.”

Williams wore what she wanted on the tennis court. She reacted as she wanted, during and outside her matches. She said what she wanted, sometimes addressing social issues, sometimes not, but there was always the feeling that she was in charge.

There were those who criticized her, of course. Those who wondered if she was doing things the right way. Just as some thought it was a mistake on the part of her father, Richard, to keep his young daughters away from the junior tennis circuit.

Uh, looks like it worked, huh?

“I will definitely miss her on the courts,” said Tomljanovic, surely echoing the thoughts of many. “It won’t be the same.”

No, tennis certainly won’t be the same without Williams. Not even close.

It’s OK, though. It’s time, as Williams wrote, that she “evolved” away from her days as a player. It’s time for her to devote more energy to being a mother and a businesswoman and all that life throws at her.

As Williams observed after hitting one final shot: “I have such a bright future ahead of me.”

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Howard Fendrich has been the AP’s tennis writer since 2002. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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More AP coverage of US Open tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/us-open-tennis-championships and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports