By The Associated Press

Tennis legend Serena Williams will now advance to the third round of the U.S. Open after defeating Anett Kontaveit in round two on Aug. 31.

The win comes just weeks before the cultural icon turns 41. 

“I love a challenge. I love rising to the challenge. I haven’t played alot of matches but I’ve been practicing well,” said Williams to ESPN, immediately after winning the match. 

Spectators and sports commentators weren’t sure if Williams could do it. Even after she won, a reporter asked if she was surprised at the victory. 

What?” responded Williams. When asked a second time, Williams simply responded with a laugh before saying “I’m just Serena!” 

Williams said that she felt like she’s “had an X” on her back since 1999, when she and sister, Venus, really began to rise to stardom. Now, on the verge of retirement, she has multiple generations of tennis players gunning for her title and record breaking performances.

“Honestly, after I lost the second set I thought ‘Oh my goodness, I better give my best,’” said Williams. “I’m super competitive and honestly I’m just looking at it as a bonus. I don’t have anything to prove. I don’t have anything to lose.

Williams has been the talk of tennis — and beyond — for most of the past three weeks after announcing that she is planning to stop playing professional tennis.

That all leads up to the U.S. Open, the year’s last Grand Slam tournament, which began Monday, with Williams scheduled to play her first-round match in Arthur Ashe Stadium at night.

The leadup to her departure has left millions around the world- especially little Black girls– wanting to walk down memory lane. Below we take a look at Williams the player and Williams the person, her accomplishments, and her influence, as the 40-year-old American gets ready to shift her focus from serving and forehands to expanding her family and pursuing business interests.

The announcement

Williams revealed her plans in an essay for Vogue magazine that was published on Aug. 9. She didn’t give a timeline and didn’t even say she was retiring, but that she was “evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.”

Along with her business interests, Williams said she wanted to expand her family. She and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, have a daughter, Olympia, who turns 5 on Thursday.

“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair,” said Williams, who was pregnant when she won the 2017 Australian Open for her last Grand Slam trophy. “If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family.”

The on-court achievements

Williams’ 23 Grand Slam singles titles are the most in the professional era of tennis, which began in 1968. She won 73 tour-level singles titles and was ranked No. 1 for more than six years’ worth of weeks.

Her greatest success came at the U.S. Open, where her 106 victories were a tournament record. She has reached at least the semifinals in her last 11 appearances.

Williams also combined with older sister Venus for 14 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles and has won four Olympic gold medals.

The off-court inspiration

Williams’ impact on the Black community is indelible. Raised in Compton, Cali., she learned tennis on the public courts that are far from the privileged private clubs that nurtured most U.S. players. She was outspoken on issues such as gun violence.

Williams is also a fashion icon. She has appeared everywhere from magazine covers to red carpets, and “What’s Serena wearing?” was sometimes as big a question as “Who’s Serena playing?” at a tennis tournament.

She launched a fashion collection in 2018 after collaborations with HSN and Nike.

Many women thought of their own choices they faced in balancing family and career when Williams made her announcement. She was two months pregnant when she won her last major title but said she couldn’t be expectant and play again.

On Aug. 9, the world-renowned professional tennis player Serena Williams announced in Vogue that she would be moving away from professional tennis and into the next phase of her life- after another U.S. Open. On Aug. 29 she won the first round of the US Open tennis championships against Danka Kovinic, of Montenegro in New York (center, right). Williams clutched another win Aug. 31 against Anett Kontaveit in the U.S. Open’s second round for women. She was joined by her family (left), daughter Olympia and husband Alexis Ohanian, after her win. Shown here, from top left, are photos from her decades-long career of dominating tennis courts around the globe: Winners of the ladies’ doubles finals, Serena and Venus Williams at Wimbledon’s 13th Tennis Day on July 7, 2002; Williams in the U.S. Open Quarterfinal victory on Sept. 3, 2013; Serena Williams during the second round match of the Woman Tennis Grand Prix in Leipzig, eastern Germany, on Sept. 25, 2002; Williams, after collecting the Rogers Cup in Romania on Aug. 11, 2013. From bottom left: Serena Williams is victorious over Sloane Stephens in a September 2013 U.S. Open match; Williams during the championship match of the Bank of the West Classic tennis tournament on Aug. 3, 2014, in Stanford, Calif.; A shot against Caroline Wozniacki, of Denmark, during the championship match of the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament on Sept. 7, 2014, in New York; Williams on the final day of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, on July 9, 2016. (All photos courtesy of AP)

The recent matches

Williams earned her only singles victory of the year on the day before her announcement, beating Nuria Parrizas-Diaz 6-3, 6-4 at the women’s National Bank Open in Toronto. She hadn’t won a singles match since the 2021 French Open.

Williams then was beaten 6-2, 6-4 by Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic in her next match.

Williams had been off the tour since an injury in the first round of Wimbledon in 2021 and didn’t return until this year’s tournament, where she fell 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) to Harmony Tan in the first round.

After the Toronto tournament, Williams went on to lose 6-4, 6-0 to U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu in the Western & Southern Open.

The preparation

Williams has been working with Rennae Stubbs, who won four Slam titles in women’s doubles, alongside coach Eric Hechtman, since last week. She practiced for about an hour inside Ashe on Saturday.

Later that day came news that even if she lost on Monday, Williams’ U.S. Open career wouldn’t be over quite yet. She and Venus accepted a wild card into the women’s doubles tournament.

The Williams sisters played the Czech pair of Lucie Hradecka and Linda Noskova in the first round. They have won the U.S. Open twice and this will be their first tournament together since the 2018 French Open.

The first opponent

Danka Kovinic said she was “honored” to be facing Williams under the bright lights of Ashe. The 27-year-old from Montenegro said she was happy to learn the news of the matchup after the U.S. Open draw was unveiled last week.

Ranked 80th in the world, Kovinic said she’s never gotten the courage to ask Williams to practice, nor had she ever even hit in the stadium that holds more than 23,000 fans before the tournament.

Kovinic scored an impressive Grand Slam victory earlier this year when she beat Raducanu in the second round of the Australian Open, but she bowed to Serena on Aug. 29 at the U.S. Open

Serena Williams v. Anett Kontaveit 

On Aug. 31 Williams played what could possibly be one of the last matches of her career against Estonian tennis champ, Anett Kontaveit. She closed out the night victorious- but win or lose, Williams has already won us over. 

She is a “forever champ” in the eyes of Black America and in the mainstream consciousness of people around the globe. She can go anywhere, simply known as “Serena.” 

Instilling pride and showing women how to attack their goals with vigor, the 13-year-old who stepped into the national spotlight with her older sister- hair-beads a swing- is now preparing to evolve. 

We can’t wait to see how the champ will outdo herself next. 

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