End of an era

September 26, 2022
It’s the last Sunday of September, a month that saw not one, not two, but three sports greats retire, with Serena Williams, Sue Bird and Roger Federer all hanging ’em up. And those retirements came after another legend, Allyson Felix, crossed her final finish line in August.
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SOURCE: JOHN CONRAD WILLIAMS, JR./NEWSDAY RM VIA GETTY IMAGES
SOURCE: JOHN CONRAD WILLIAMS, JR./NEWSDAY RM VIA GETTY IMAGES

🎾 “Just” Serena

We have to start with Serena, who gave us a run to remember at the US Open earlier this month, besting the world No. 2 to advance to the third round in what was (likely) her final major.

  • Her on-court accomplishments over her 27-year pro career warrant repeating — 23 Grand Slam singles titles (one shy of the all-time record), 73 singles tourney titles and a whopping 319 total weeks as the WTA No. 1. We could go on and on.
  • And while she dominated the sport, Serena also changed it. “The girl from Compton” faced racism and sexism throughout her career but always rose above it, inspiring the next generation of BIPOC athletes in the predominantly white sport.
  • Serena left the sport better than she found it, notably pushing back on conservative tennis fashion and inspiring the WTA to freeze the rankings of postpartum players who take time off from the tour.

Which brings us to the future. There’s only one Serena, but there are countless athletes she’s inspired. One up-and-comer poised to follow in Serena’s footsteps is 18-year-old Coco Gauff, who reached her first Grand Slam final at the French Open earlier this year.

  • Serena’s impact on the teen is clear — ahead of the US Open, Gauff said “I never thought that I was different because the No. 1 player in the world was somebody who looked like me.” The profound importance of representation.

👟 Passing the baton

SOURCE: CARMEN MANDATO/GETTY IMAGES

Allyson Felix’s on-course accomplishments are second to none. She’s the most decorated woman in Olympic track & field history, the most decorated U.S. track & field Olympian and the most decorated athlete in World Athletics Championship history. Wonder how big her trophy case is.

But like Serena, Felix’s greatest impact came outside competition, most notably by championing motherhood in sports. She memorably spoke out against then-sponsor Nike in 2019 when the company tried to reduce her salary while she was pregnant.

  • Felix’s activism inspired a maternity policy change at Nike, and she even testified before Congress about the maternal mortality crisis that disproportionately affects Black women.
  • She later partnered with new-sponsor Athleta on a grant assisting athletes with childcare expenses, and implemented a landmark maternity return policy at her shoe brand Saysh. Truly walking (or sprinting!) that walk.

All to say, it’ll be tough to fill Felix’s running shoes. But 23-year-old Sydney McLaughlin may be next in line. Felix herself recognized McLaughlin’s shine back in 2016, long before the hurdler began shattering her own records on the biggest stages.

  • McLaughlin broke the 400-meter hurdles world record four times in 13 months, most recently posting a 50.68-second finish at the 2022 World Athletics Championship in July. No telling what she’ll do next.

🏀 And she (alley) oop

SOURCE: STEPH CHAMBERS/GETTY IMAGES

Sue Bird’s unparalleled 20-year WNBA career was nearly as long as the league itself. She spent every minute with the Seattle Storm, notching 13 All-Star nods and a handful of league records including most assists and games played, while also racking up four championships across three different decades. Longevity personified.

And you might be sensing a pattern: Bird’s legacy is bigger than ball. She’s helped others live their truths through her power-couple relationship with USWNT star Megan Rapinoe. And as WNBPA vice president, she helped flip the U.S. Senate when players backed Rev. Raphael Warnock’s 2020 campaign.

  • Like Serena and Felix, Bird’s also an industry mover and shaker. She co-founded Togethxr, a media company showcasing women’s voices in sports, and recently invested in the NWSL’s NJ/NY Gotham FC.

While Bird ponders her next move, the question of who becomes the next face of the W is fraught — it’s no secret that media coverage and marketing have disproportionately focused on the league’s white stars.

  • But with four All-Star nods, two MVP awards and now a championship to her name, Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson is the no-brainer candidate to take the reins. Pace yourself and hydrate — this is just the beginning.

🎾 King of the court

SOURCE: JOHN WALTON/PA IMAGES VIA GETTY IMAGES

Roger Federer’s final match last Friday signals the beginning of a new era in men’s tennis, especially as he and his fellow “Big Three” members, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, saw their 18-year streak of trading the world’s top spots snapped earlier this year.

  • Before we pass the torch, let’s celebrate the Swiss Maestro. Federer boasts 20 Grand Slam singles titles (third-most all-time for men) — eight of them from his 10 straight Grand Slam finals streak between 2005 and 2007. Dominance.
  • Plus, Federer served up plenty of aces off the court, dedicating his philanthropic efforts primarily to early childhood education. He launched the Roger Federer Foundation in 2003, focusing on educational projects in Switzerland and southern Africa.

The rest of the Big Three haven’t hung ’em up just yet, but tennis fans already have a new contender to celebrate — 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, who recently won the US Open and that coveted world No. 1 spot.

  • The Spaniard has drawn comparisons to his countryman Nadal, but his effortless ability to cover the court is reminiscent of King Roger. Federer even declared Alcaraz a “new superstar” in the game. The future's looking real bright.
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