The greatest tennis player of all time is returning to the sport’s most prestigious tournament. But this time around, one side needs the other more than ever. And Serena Williams isn’t the thirsty one.
Earlier this week, The All England Club announced that Williams will be granted a wild-card entry to participate in the singles tournaments as she hopes to capture her elusive 24th Grand Slam singles win after a year off.
When Williams plays, people watch. That’s why, in 2022, Williams is doing The All England Club a favor. She doesn’t need them. The tournament — and sport — needs her. As a legendary sports icon that changed the way her sport is played, and viewed, and as an athlete that makes more money off the court than she does on it, at age 40, referring to Williams as someone who plays tennis instead of just viewing her as a “tennis player” isn’t a diss, it’s a fact.
If Williams woke up tomorrow morning and decided to retire, she’d be OK. But, tennis wouldn’t. Williams has won Wimbledon 7 times as a solo act and came in second in 2018 and 2019. According to SportsMediaWatch, after Williams retired in the first round with an injury during last summer’s tournament, the finals between Ashleigh Barty and Karolína Plíšková averaged just 1.09 million viewers, which was down 55 percent from the 2019 finals that Williams played in. Last year’s finals matchup without Williams was also the smallest audience for any Wimbledon singles final since ESPN began airing the event exclusively in 2011.
A look at the winners of that tournament on the women’s side is proof that nobody moves the needle like a “Williams,” be it Serena or Venus. And that’s no disrespect to the talents of Maria Sharapova, Amélie Mauresmo, Petra Kvitová, Marion Bartoli, Garbiñe Muguruza, Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, and Barty — who’ve been the only women to win Wimbledon since 2000 whose last name isn’t Williams.
But, let me ask you this.
Do you remember them?
Do you know their names?
No, you don’t. And Wimbledon knows that, which is why they’re granting Williams a wild-card. Not because she deserves it, but because they need her to play. The sport of tennis needs Williams on the court, especially given the way things are going on the women’s side.
Over the last year or so, the sport that still takes issue with a Black woman being the face of it, has shown us that it doesn’t want Naomi Osaka around. As of right now, Osaka’s name is on the entry list for the tournament. But a few weeks ago, she was leaning towards not playing. And then there’s Coco Gauf — the young phenom that the public and many in the media thrust unrealistic expectations on in 2019 — is still finding her way in the sport, as the 18-year-old just made her first Grand Slam finals appearance when she lost in the French Open earlier this month.
The sport of tennis and its biggest tournament have been looking for someone — male or female — to be the next Serena Williams for years, and haven’t been able to find an adequate replacement that brings the same kind of energy, intrigue, and ratings that she does. And on one hand, that’s bad for tennis. But on the other hand, it’s good for us. Because it means that we got to see the best to ever do it — which is why Serena Williams is still in such high demand at Wimbledon.