Serena Williams' retirement announcement a full-circle moment in Canada

·5 min read
American tennis legend Serena Williams celebrates after defeating Nuria Parrizas-Diaz of Spain on Monday during her opening match of the National Bank Open women's tournament at Sobeys Stadium in Toronto. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press - image credit)
American tennis legend Serena Williams celebrates after defeating Nuria Parrizas-Diaz of Spain on Monday during her opening match of the National Bank Open women's tournament at Sobeys Stadium in Toronto. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press - image credit)

When Serena Williams made the first professional tennis appearance of her career in Quebec City on a chilly late-October day in 1995, at just 14 years old, there was no pomp and circumstance, no introductions and certainly no fans watching.

No one really had any idea who she was or what she was about to become.

The kid from Compton, Calif., who had travelled north to la belle province to begin her foray into the tennis world, was competing in a Tier 3 tournament qualifying match against 149th-ranked American Annie Miller.

It was unmemorable, lacklustre and the match was over in less than an hour. Miller thumped Williams 6-1, 6-1.

That trip to Canada in those formative years has stuck with one of the greatest tennis players of all time. It fuelled her drive to be the best.

And when she returned to the pro circuit two years after that opening match defeat, Williams was ready to take on the world and change the game forever.

'End of a story'

It only seems fitting then that after starting this tennis journey in Canada, she would announce her career is coming to an end in Canada.

Williams says she is "evolving away" from tennis, her way of saying retirement.

In a lengthy point-of-view article in Vogue Magazine, Williams says she's leaving the game in September.

WATCH | Williams to retire from tennis:

"I don't know how I'm going to be able to look at this magazine when it comes out, knowing that this is it, the end of a story that started in Compton with a little Black girl who just wanted to play tennis," Williams wrote in Vogue.

"I'm torn: I don't want it to be over, but at the same time I'm ready for what's next."

Now Canadian tennis fans get one last chance to serenade and celebrate the 23-time Grand Slam singles winner.

WATCH | Fans in Toronto pay tribute to Williams:

Longevity at the top

In the 27 years that have passed since that unremarkable loss to Annie Miller, Williams has amassed eye-popping results.

And her ability to stay on top for as long as she has, with all she's endured, is perhaps what's most astounding.

In fact, Williams holds the record for the longest time between getting to the No. 1 position, that happened on July 8, 2002, and doing it again 14 years later in May, 2017.

She held the No. 1 ranking for 319 weeks. Williams has won 855 times compared to 153 losses.

Ten of Williams' 23 Slam singles titles have come after she turned 30 years old.

Not only does she hold the 23 Slam singles titles, she has another 14 Slam doubles titles and two mixed doubles titles to her name — that includes six U.S. Open championships, seven Australian Open titles, four Olympic gold medals and Wimbledon doubles titles.

And as she approaches 41, that happens next month, she's still out there playing with the same vigor and passion she has brought to the court for every match for nearly three decades.

On Sunday in Toronto, Williams won her first singles match in more than a year. On Wednesday night at the National Bank Open she'll take to the court once again to face either Belinda Bencic or Tereza Martincova.

WATCH | Williams advances to 2nd round in Toronto:

A sold-out crowd is expected to take in the match, with celebrations to honour Williams planned.

On three occasions Williams has been crowned champion on Canadian soil — she first won it all in 2001, then again 10 years later in 2011. Her last win in Canada came in 2013.

Last great run in Toronto

And while those championship titles are impressive and memorable, what many will remember most is Williams' last great run in Toronto.

On a brilliantly sunny August afternoon three years ago, in 2019, Williams took to the court against the upstart Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu in the title match.

The anticipation in the stadium that day was palpable.

There was the then 37-year-old tennis juggernaut taking on the hometown teen sensation — Williams turned pro five years before Andreescu was born.

It was the stuff of movies and tournament organizers couldn't have dreamed up a better finish.

But that dream scenario quickly turned into a brief nightmare, when just four games into the match Williams retired with an injury.

That's when a moment Canadian tennis fans will never forget played out.

There was this beautiful scene that unfolded in the chaos of the abrupt ending. Andreescu, so young in her career, immediately raced to Williams to make sure she was OK.

They hugged and exchanged words of support. The genuine care from Andreescu showed in the most clear way her respect for the tennis legend.

WATCH | Andreescu consoles Williams after abrupt end to 2019 final:

Williams then had a chance to speak to the capacity crowd over the loud speakers inside the stadium.

"I'm sorry I couldn't do it today," Williams said, crying. "I tried, but I just, I couldn't do it."

She continued.

"Bianca, you're a great sportsperson, woman. And thanks to my team. It's been a tough year, but we'll keep going."

She has kept going.

The two would meet again in a championship match, just a month later, in the U.S. Open final. Andreescu defeated Williams to become the first Canadian ever to win a singles title at the Slam.

WATCH | How Andreescu faced down Williams before U.S. Open final:

That's the last time Williams has played in a Grand Slam championship match. She's so badly wanted to get that 24th Slam singles victory, and it hasn't been for lack of trying.

And so this is it. These will be the last matches ever played by Williams.

But this time when she takes to the court in Canada for the final time, it will be very different from that first appearance.

There will be an introduction. Pomp and circumstance. And thousands of fans cheering and applauding endlessly for an athlete who has endured, elevated time and time again — and earned her way into the history books as one of the greatest ever to play tennis.