Tennis stars Roger Federer and Serena Williams will be remembered not only for their athleticism, but also for their commitment to friendship, humanitarian efforts and social justice.
Two incredible tennis players who revolutionized the sport announced their retirements this year – Roger Federer and Serena Williams are household names among tennis fans and role models for athletes around the world.
Federer, a Swiss tennis player, became a star player after his successful performance at Wimbledon in 1998. Federer won his first Grand Slam title in 2003 and won three major Grand Slam singles titles in 2004. In 2008, Federer struggled with injuries and mononucleosis despite winning gold at the Beijing Olympics in doubles with partner Stan Wawrinka.
The tennis legend struggled with back injuries while simultaneously giving birth to twins in 2014. In 2016, among other injury complications, he had to undergo knee surgery that caused him to fall out of the top 10 rankings. In 2018, Federer secured his 20th Grand Slam singles title by winning the Australian Open. Despite pandemic disruptions, Federer’s age became a more obvious topic of discussion at Wimbledon in 2021, his final Grand Slam appearance.
This year Federer withdrew from the Laver Cup in London. He ended his professional career with longtime friend and competitor Rafael Nadal, who played doubles alongside him. The pair fought back tears as Federer finished the final match of his pro career.
According to The Washington Post, Federer expressed his gratitude for his tennis journey. “I was just happy to play tennis and spend time with my friends, really,” said Federer. “It was a perfect trip. I would do it again and again.”
Federer’s knee presented a challenge: Competing with a serious injury is a health risk. He described his knee as being like playing BBC Breakfast on “very thin ice”. At 41, he has set an outstanding record of over 1,500 professional games. He has spent 310 weeks as world No. 1 and boasts 20 Grand Slam singles championships.
Although the last games of his career were defeats, Federer found joy in the finality of his career.
“That’s the ironic part, everyone thinks of a happy fairy tale ending, you know?” Federer told the New York Times. “And for me it actually ended that way, but in a way that I never thought would happen.”
Federer has also made efforts to improve society. The Roger Federer Foundation is committed to providing educational opportunities for children in low-income communities. His athletic achievements and philanthropic endeavors make him an influential individual in society.
Serena Williams also announced her retirement earlier this year. Another incredible athlete, Williams transformed the tennis world and became an influential role model as a phenomenal black athlete.
Williams began competing professionally at the age of 14. She has 23 Grand Slam titles to her credit, in addition to 14 doubles titles won with her sister Venus Williams. Serena is the highest paid tennis player, Venus is second. Serena’s last match at the US Open in New York City broke records: it was the most watched tennis broadcast in ESPN history.
Williams redefined motherhood for athletes. While she retired from tennis to have her daughter, she returned soon after to continue competing professionally.
“A lot of people don’t know that I was two months pregnant when I won the Australian Open in 2017,” Williams wrote in Vogue. “But I’m going to be 41 this month and there has to be something here.”
Being a working mom is difficult in any sector of the workforce, let alone a global superstar who is constantly training to excel on the pitch.
Williams has also spoken out on racial and gender equality in sport. She has highlighted the racism and sexism that plagues the tennis community as well as institutions around the world. A defining moment came in her final at the 2018 US Open when Williams lost to Naomi Osaka, but there was controversy over her interaction with the referee.
The referee fined him $17,000 for three in-game violations. Williams called referee Carlos Ramos a “thief” after receiving a point penalty for smashing her racquet – resulting in a verbal abuse penalty.
“And when I said ‘thief’ and he made a game, I felt like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief,'” Williams said after the match.
According to NBC, many celebrities, professional athletes and former tennis players supported Williams in her argument that there is a discrepancy between the way male and female players are treated and fined for their behavior on the court. Former number one tennis player Billie Jean King tweeted in defense of Williams over double standards in the sport.
“When a woman is emotional, she is ‘hysterical’ and will be punished for it. When a man does the same, he is “open” and there is no repercussion,” King tweeted.
Williams also boycotted the Indian Wells tennis tournament from 2001 to 2015: In 2001, members of the crowd racially attacked her and her family. She is an outspoken supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and remains committed to racial equality.
Retirement doesn’t come easy for Icons. Despite her immense success and record-breaking career, leaving professional competition is a challenge for Williams.
“I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I keep telling myself I wish it was easy for me, but it’s not. I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next,” she told Vogue.
Williams has many things to focus on after she retires. She founded Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm that has sponsored many startups championing women and people of color, and said she has plans to dedicate herself to her family life as well.
Both Federer and Williams served the tennis community with their sporting brilliance and influential contributions. Even as they wander off the courts, tennis fans will always hold Federer and Williams in their hearts, not only for their performance on the courts, but also for the individual passions they sought off the courts.