The answer is that Miler was the first person to face Serena Williams in a professional tournament. It was 1995 and Serena was only 14 years old. And Miller, who was 18 and ranked 149th, beat her 6-1, 6-1 in the first round of qualifying in Quebec.
Three years later, Miller reached his career-high ranking of No. 40; at that time, Serena was the 19th in the world. Two years later Miller retired and Serena was already a Grand Slam champion. The Serena era was well underway.
For 27 years, Serena dominated women’s tennis. Even when she was that 14-year-old on a backcourt in Canada, the spotlight was on her and not her opponent. Her big sister, Venus, had made headlines before, but their dad, Richard, warned anyone who would listen that if Venus was a champion in the making, little Serena was the one to do. Warning. She was the boxer. She was the one who would not be beaten.
Now, as she begins the countdown to her last match, it doesn’t seem possible that she will no longer be a part of the tennis world. Despite only playing three matches in 14 months (and losing two), she was never far from the news. Would she play again? Is she retired? Serena was always the story.
Serena has been running away from the “r” word for years. write in vogue this month, she still wouldn’t use the word retirement; instead, she “played away from tennis”. And the US Open would, in all likelihood, be his last tournament. It’s not that she’s a freak, it’s just that she can’t stand to give up on her career.
She wrote that she barely discussed retirement with her husband; it is “like a taboo subject”. She didn’t tell her parents either. But she wants to have another child and with her 41st birthday galloping towards her, “something has to give”. She won the 2017 Australian Open when she was two months pregnant, but she won’t try again. This time, family comes first.
She walks away with 23 Grand Slam singles titles, one shy of Margaret Court’s record. But for once, numbers don’t matter. The Aussie’s total of 24 major trophies came at a time when few of the top players traveled to Melbourne for the Australian Open where Court won 11 of her titles. She was, without a doubt, one of the greatest of her time, but these results cannot match Serena’s accomplishments.
Beginning her career at the time of Steffi Graf and Monica Seles (without forgetting her sister Venus), she then faced Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis. From there, she took on Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova. Then it was the turn of Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber and Barty to try to beat her. And until the past two months, since her reappearance at Wimbledon, no one would bet against her every time she stepped onto the court.
She won when she was at her peak and she won when she was clearly undercooked. In 2007, she arrived at the Australian Open looking heavy and out of shape. No matter; she simply refused to lose. Lap after lap, she dared anyone from qualifier Anne Kremer to then-world No. 1 Sharapova to beat her. And no one dared.
It wasn’t until the opportunity to win that 24th Grand Slam title presented itself that she looked vulnerable. She’s always suffered from nervousness – all players suffer from that – but as she got older and knew the chances of equaling Court’s record grew less and less, they chained her down. That, in turn, led to frustration and anger that, when boiling over, was far scarier than his fiercest serve.
The “Serena Temper” has always been difficult to control. When she loses it, she loses it a lot, especially when she threatened a linesman who dared to call her for a foot fault in the 2009 US Open semi-final. “I swear to God, I’m gonna f*****g take the ball and shove it down your f*****g throat,” she yelled at the woman who immediately told the referee. Serena was docked a point and the match went to Clijsters.
But it’s that fury, that anger that made Serena a champion like no other. While writing her retirement essay in vogue, she was still furious. Not to the death of light but to the injustice of being a female athlete. She wants another child so she has to choose between tennis and motherhood. If she was a male athlete, she could leave the pregnancy to her partner while she takes care of being a champion.
Serena has a polarized opinion and this is partly due to racism and sexism and partly due to her spectacular outbursts. This belligerent, brash and arrogant side of his character won him those 23 Grand Slam titles, but he also stood up for women’s rights, mothers’ rights and the rights of African Americans. She has a platform and she’s not afraid to use it.
After 27 years, the sport that Serena Williams leaves behind is very different from the one she first practiced: faster, stronger, more athletic. Much of it depends on her. She’s not just the GOAT of women’s tennis, she’s arguably the greatest athlete, male or female, of all time. There will certainly never be another like her.