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AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2023: Tennis without Serena starts in earnest

Tennis will move on from Serena Williams. He must. Note that this may not be easy given that she was a transcendent figure, on and off the court. But that’s what the sport does, even when the superstars are gone. They all leave, of course, but the sport always moves on.

Matches will be played, new stars will appear, fans will continue to watch. And Williams will be missed, of course. By the audience. Heads of tours, tournaments and television. other athletes.

And since the 2023 Australian Open starts on Monday (Sunday evening EST), this is the first Grand Slam to take place since she left farewell to the US Open in September, shortly before her 41st birthday – the winner of 23 major singles championships said she prefers the term “evolution” to the term “retirement” – the tennis player will get a real taste of what the world looks like after Serena on the big stage .

That’s true even if her influence doesn’t fade, as US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster put it: “She leaves an indelible legacy of grace and courage that will inspire athletes, women and men, for generations to come.”

Surely there will be those who will follow the real data for two weeks in Melbourne Park, as well as during this and future seasons. Numbers such as attendance and TV ratings will be analyzed to assess what the effect is of leaving someone who has earned the status of a celebrity who only needs one name.

In a way, this is all a little off the mark.

“Her legacy is truly great, to the point where you can’t even describe it in words. She changed the sport so much. She introduced the sport to people who had never heard of tennis,” said Naomi Osaka, a 25-year-old Japanese woman who has won four Grand Slams but has not played a match since August and missed the Australian Open. “I honestly think she is the biggest force in the sport. This is not a deliberate attempt to shrink (Roger) Federer or (Rafael) Nadal. I just think she’s the biggest thing the sport will ever have.”

In recent decades, people may have been worried about what would happen if Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova stopped acting. Or when Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors left. Or Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Or Steffi Graf. And so on.

“It’s always a loss when great players leave. But I’ve been through six or seven generations of that,” said Billie Jean King, twice inductee into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, who has won 12 Grand Slam trophies in singles and 27 in women’s or mixed doubles.

“I mean, I remember when Sampras left and when Martina and Chris left. I thought, “Oh no! What should happen?’ Well, Sampras was there, and you know what? There is Roger Federer. There is Nadal. … It’s the same with women. We now have Iga (Swiatek) taking over,” King said. “Every generation gets better and the depth of women’s tennis is better than ever and Serena is responsible to some extent because every generation builds on the last generation.”

Shortly after Williams lost to Ayla Tomljanovic in the third round at Flushing Meadows, another tennis titan, 20-time world champion Federerannounced his retirement. Federer has not played an official match for over a year due to a series of knee surgeries.

Williams had moments when she turned down stretching competitions, either due to health issues or simply because she wanted to spend time on other interests that she felt contributed to her longevity.

WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon believes these gaps have left room for some new faces in women’s tennis, such as current No. 1 Swiatek and American teenager Coco Gauff.

“Anyway, for the past few years, Serena has been playing what I would call a limited schedule. So it’s clear that we have a new set of stars that are coming in and have certainly proven themselves and are doing well,” Simon said. “But I see that we continue to celebrate Serena – and I hope she comes back and plays for another five or ten years.”

Good luck with that.

But those she brought into tennis, whether players or fans, should last much longer than that.

“Serena got a lot of people interested in our sport. And now it’s up to the next generation,” King said. “People always — the media — get into it every time, ‘Oh, they’re leaving! Oh what’s going to happen? Someone is always on top. The cream rises to the top.”

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.



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