Serena Williams shocked the tennis world on Tuesday afternoon by announcing she would be stepping away from the sport following the upcoming US Open.
The 40-year-old American star has not yet confirmed the date of her departure from the sport (and even avoided using the word ‘retirement’), but she will step away to spend more time with her five-year-old, Olympia, and her husband, Alexis Ohanian.
Williams is one of the best tennis players in the world and has been at the top of the sport since bursting onto the scene in 1997.
She has won an incredible 23 Grand Slam singles titles and four Olympic gold medals during her storied career. She has also given her fans a lifetime worth of fantastic memories.
Serena’s athleticism, strength, speed and flexibility – coupled with her determination to succeed – have made her a force to be reckoned with.
However, Serena is more than just a tennis icon. She is a legend that has paved the way for female athletes and stoop up to discrimination in a multitude of forms.
So with her retirement looming large, Sportsmail have taken a look back at the most iconic and memorable moments of Serena’s career.
Serena Williams has announced she will be departing from the sport after the US Open
Serena has not confirmed when she will be retiring but is going to step away from the court
1997: Her first big win in Chicago
The Williams sisters burst onto the scene in the 1990’s and it wasn’t long before they became household names in tennis.
Fans across the world were mesmerised by their athleticism and heaped praise on their ability to serve the ball at pace.
It was Venus who rose to stardom first – reaching the final of the US Open at just 17-years-old. However, it didn’t take long for Serena to make her mark.
The 16-year-old starlet reached the semi-finals of the Ameritech Cup after beating world number seven Mary Pierce and world number four Monica Seles despite being ranked 304.
The Williams sisters burst onto the scene in the 1990’s and it wasn’t long before they became household names in tennis
1999: Her first Grand Slam singles title
Williams picked up her first Grand Slam singles title in 1999 – a truly iconic moment as no one had quite anticipated what was to follow.
Martina Hingis beat Venus in the US Open semi-finals to secure her place in the final against Serena.
Williams – who was competing in her first major final – beat Hingis in straight sets to claim her first piece of silverware.
The American has gone on to win 23 Grand Slam singles titles along with 14 major championships in doubles.
Serena picked up her first Grand Slam singles title in 1999, winning the US Open in New York
2001: Her response to racism at Indian Wells
Williams has spoken out against racism frequently throughout her career but one of the defining moments of her career came when she took a stance following the tournament in Indian Wells.
The crowd turned against the Americans after Venus pulled out of a scheduled semi-final clash with Serena – four minutes before the contest was due to begin.
Serena has spoken out against racism frequently throughout her career but one of the defining moments came when she took a stance following the tournament in Indian Wells (above)
The decision fuelled suggestions – always denied by the Williams family – that the sisters were reluctant to play against each other, and that when they did play the results were pre-determined.
Venus and father Richard were jeered as they made their way to watch Serena in the final.
As she played the match, the 19-year-old faced a crowd that was firmly against her, and she is convinced racism was the cause.
As result, the Williams sisters decided to boycott the tournament – which neither of them playing in the tournament from 2001 to 2015.
Venus and father Richard were jeered as they made their way to watch Serena in the final
However, Serena made the decision to return to the tournament in 2015 – saying: ‘I’m fortunate to be at a point in my career where I have nothing to prove. I’m still as driven as ever, but the ride is a little easier.
‘I play for the love of the game. And it is with that love in mind, and a new understanding of the true meaning of forgiveness, that I will proudly return to Indian Wells in 2015.’
Reflecting on her 2001 experience, the American wrote: ‘The false allegations that our matches were fixed hurt, cut and ripped into us deeply.
‘The undercurrent of racism was painful, confusing and unfair.
‘In a game I loved with all my heart, at one of my most cherished tournaments, I suddenly felt unwelcome, alone and afraid.’
2002-03: The first Serena Slam
The 2002-03 tennis season was the campaign in which Serena became a bonafide tennis legend!
After a remarkable run of victories, Williams had managed to claim all four Grand Slam titles.
By doing so, she became the first player to have won all four simultaneously since Steffi Graf managed to do so in 1994.
It started with the French Open where she beat Venus in the final to win the second Grand Slam title of her career.
Serena picked up her first Slam after beating her sister Venus in their fourth consecutive Grand Slam final in 2003
Just months later at Wimbledon, Williams then beat Venus again tp win the title without dropping a single set. That success also gave her the world No 1 ranking.
As the sibling rivalry continued to dominate the sport, Williams again saw off Venus to win the US Open title as she moved to just one Grand Slam win away from complete dominance.
The wait to get her hands on the Australian Open continued into 2003 after she was forced to withdraw in Melbourne in 2002 through injury.
She would not be denied 12 months later though when she beat – you guessed it – Venus in their fourth consecutive Grand Slam final, to become only the sixth woman in the Open Era to complete a career Grand Slam.
2004: Serena’s first run-in with the officials
During her 2004 US Open quarter-final against Jennifer Capriati, there were four line calls that went against Williams, including an incorrect over-rule by umpire Mariana Alves.
The most controversial saw Alves over-rule the line judge in the first game of the third set.
Williams, wearing her iconic Nike denim skirt, hit a backhand return that was clearly in and was ruled in by the line judge. But Alves did not agree and gave Capriati the point before she went on to win the game.
Williams argued with Alves, who did not officiate for the rest of the tournament, but there was nothing she could do as she bowed out in New York City.
To make things worse, TV replays clearly showed Williams had every right to be angry.
Officials from the United States Tennis Association apologised to Williams in the aftermath and said they would consider using video replay. This match has been labelled as key to the introduction of Hawkeye.
It was the first of Williams’ run-ins with authority at Flushing Meadows.
Serena argued with umpire Mariana Alves after a series of close line calls in her 2004 US Open quarter-final (above)
2005-2007: Impressive Australian Open comeback
Although Williams is a global star, she is susceptible to injuries and she had plenty of setbacks throughout her career.
Between the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2005, Williams completed just two tournaments as she suffered a spate of retirements and withdrawals due to a recurring ankle injury.
She crashed out of Wimbledon in 2005 at the third round stage and lost to Venus in the fourth round of the US Open. A frustrating 12 months saw her miss out on the season-ending championship for the first time since 1998.
There were still some lingering injury problems at the start of 2006 and she admitted to not being fully fit after crashing out of the Australian Open.
After suffering problems with her mental health, Williams stepped away from the court for six months in 2006 and returned in Cincinnati – where she was beaten in the semi-finals.
Returning with a vengeance at the start of the 2007 season, Williams went on to beat Maria Sharapova in straight sets 6-1, 6-2 to claim her first title at any tournament since winning the 2005 Australian Open.
Serena is a global tennis super-star but she is also human that sustains injury and heartache. However, she bounced back from both to win the Australian Open in 2005 and 2007 (above)
2009: Threatens a line judge
Serena screamed her way out of the US Open in 2009.
Having been given a racket abuse warning after losing the first set of her semi-final against Clijsters, Williams was called for a foot fault on a second serve trailing 5-6 and 15-30 in the second set, thus giving her opponent a match point.
Williams reacted angrily towards the line judge who had made the call, swearing and threatening to shove a tennis ball down her throat. She reportedly said: ‘If I could, I would take this f***ing ball and shove it down your f***ing throat.’
The diminutive lineswoman reported her words to the umpire, who called in the tournament referee at Flushing Meadows in New York.
With the crowd booing, Serena could be heard on the court microphone pleading with the lineswoman, saying: ‘I didn’t say I would kill you. Are you serious? I didn’t say that.’
Serena received a point penalty and therefore lost the match. She was fined a record $82,500 (£51,000) and put on a two-year probation.
Serena reacted angrily towards an official, threatening to shove a tennis ball down her throat
2011: Outburst at the US Open
Williams reached the final at Flushing Meadows and took on Australia’s Sam Stosur.
Facing break point, Williams shouted ‘Come on’ after hitting a forehand that Stosur attempted to return. Umpire Eva Asderaki ruled that a hindrance and awarded the point to Stosur.
Williams was furious and harangued Asderaki, called the umpire ‘a hater’ and saying she was ‘unattractive inside’.
The American was fined only $2,000 (£1,250) after it was deemed her outburst was not a major offence under the Grand Slam code of conduct.
Later that year, she cut her feet on broken glass while leaving a restaurant in Germany.
She eventually needed two operations on her right foot and spent 10 weeks in a cast, then 10 weeks in a walking boot. Then she got blood clots in her lungs and a pool of blood under the skin of her stomach.
Serena called an umpire ‘a hater’ and saying she was ‘unattractive inside’ at the 2011 US Open
2012: Olympic glory in London
Williams won the first Olympic singles title of her career at the 2012 Games in London. She then danced on Centre Court in celebration at completing a career ‘golden slam’.
That feat comprises having won every individual singles Slam title – in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York – as well as Olympic singles gold.
Williams obliterated Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 to get her hands on the medal, registering her most emphatic win over the Russian in the process.
Serena Williams won the first Olympic singles title of her career at the London 2012 Games
Having secured the win, Serena jumped up and down, punched the air, performed a jig, acknowledged the huge cheers she was receiving and thanked the chair umpire.
Speaking after her triumph, Serena said: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever danced like that. I don’t even know where the dance came from.’
At the time, only one other female player has completed a golden slam … and that was Steffi Graf. She achieved the feat in a single year, 1988, when she won all the major singles titles as well as Games gold in Seoul.
She then danced on Centre Court in celebration at completing a career ‘golden slam’
2015: Second ‘Serena Slam’
She beat Sharapova in the 2015 Australian Open final to secure her 19th Grand Slam title.
Despite battling flu, Williams went on to win a third successive major and 20th overall by overcoming Czech Lucie Safarova in the French Open final.
She then won the so-called ‘Serena Slam’ by winning a sixth Wimbledon crown to hold all four majors for the second time in her career.
Williams seemed poised to secure a calendar Grand Slam at the 2015 U.S. Open but lost to Italy’s Roberta Vinci in semi-final.
2017: Winning the Australian Open while pregnant
Serena beat her sister Venus in the 2017 Australian Open final without dropping a set across the tournament. It was one of the most extraordinary victories in the history of the sport.
However, it’s what came next that made her triumph even more iconic.
Serena announced that she was around eight weeks pregnant at the time – having learned of her pregnancy just two days before the tournament started.
Speaking about her pregnancy, she told ELLE: ‘My body has belonged to tennis for so long. I gripped my first racket at age three and played my first pro game at 14.
‘The sport has torn me up: I’ve rolled my ankles, busted my knees, played with a taped-up Achilles heel, and quit midgame from back spasms. I’ve suffered every injury imaginable, and I know my body.
‘When I found out I was pregnant two days before the 2017 Australian Open, my body had already switched allegiances. Its purpose, as far as it was concerned, was to grow and nurture this baby that had seemingly materialised, unplanned.’
Williams surpassed Graf by getting record No.23 at the 2017 Australian Open with a win, fittingly, against Venus in the final, 6-4, 6-4.
Only Margaret Court has won more Grand Slam singles titles in tennis history, 24, but only 11 of hers came during the professional era.
Serena beat her sister Venus in the 2017 Australian Open final while she was pregnant
2018: Sensational comeback after child birth
Serena made her post-childbirth comeback a winning one with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Zarina Diyas in the first round at the BNP Paribas Open in 2018.
It was her first singles match in nearly 14 months – having not played since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant. Williams looked understandably rusty in front of a large centre court crowd but managed to get the job done.
It wasn’t easy – as she mixed 27 unforced errors with 34 winners – but she showed the sort of poise that has earned her 23 grand slam singles titles.
The victory was an iconic moment in Serena’s career as she previously revealed post-childbirth health complications included blood clots in her lungs were almost fatal.
Serena made her post-childbirth comeback one to remember by beating Zarina Diyas 7-5, 6-3
2022: Wins her first match in 430 days
Serena earned her first win in more than a year on August 8 after beating Nuria Parrizas-Diaz 6-3, 6-4 at the women’s National Bank Open.
The result marked Williams’ first win in a remarkable 430 days – since she beat Danielle Rose Collins on June 4 in the 2021 French Open.
The result at the women’s National Bank Open came in Serena’s second tournament of the season – having returned to competition at Wimbledon just over a month before.
However, the 40-year-old American tennis star was beaten in the first round by Harmony Tan.
Before then, she last competed at the 2021 Wimbledon tournament, where she retired in the middle of her first match due to a torn hamstring suffered after slipping on the grass surface.
Serena Williams defeated Nuria Parrizas Diaz in the National Bank Open first round