Serena Williams, of the United States, spins as she waves to fans after losing to Ajla Tomljanovic, of Austrailia, in the third round of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in New York. Credit: John Minchillo / AP

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There hasn’t been a ton of great news out there recently. So when Serena Williams returned to the tennis court for this year’s U.S. Open, it was refreshing to see true greatness on display once again.

The younger Williams sister, now 40, has long since cemented her place among the all time greats — not just in tennis history, but across all sports. Her 23 grand slam singles titles rank second only to Australian great Margaret Court. Williams’ persistence in the face of racial taunts and jeers about her looks also cemented her place as a role model, who changed tennis and sports for the better.

It seems that Williams’ storied tennis career may have reached game, set, match with retirement talk swirling around her third round exit from this year’s U.S. Open tournament. And, rightfully so, talk has also swirled about her lofty place in the history books.

Many other sports greats took time to enjoy and appreciate Williams’ career and her most recent performance, which included some gutsy play, thrilling rallies and even an upset of the current second ranked player in the world. That inspiring run ended Friday night with a loss to Australian Ajla Tomljanovic.

“We just witnessed the last US Open for the greatest of all time, Serena Williams!! Serena has meant so much to sports, the game of tennis, the world, every little girl, and even more to every little Black girl across the globe,” NBA great Magic Johnson tweeted.

“Thank you @serenawilliams for transcending sports for black athletes, female athletes and every athlete,” gymnastics star Simone Biles tweeted. “Such a pleasure to watch, thanks for being an inspiration.”

“It’s truly been fun to watch Serena not only change the sport of tennis, but more importantly, how she’s helped empower the next generation,” swimming legend Michael Phelps added on Twitter. “Her tennis accomplishments speak for themselves, but one of the things I admire about her is she simply doesn’t quit. On or off the court.”

Williams has been delivering electric performances for over two decades, and that electricity was on display yet again as she took down world number two Anett Kontaveit of Estonia last Wednesday. That electricity was dialed all the way up as other superstars, like golfer Tiger Woods, cheered on from the crowd. Talk about goosebumps.

“Serena Williams, you’re literally the greatest on and off the court,” Woods later wrote on Twitter. “Thank you for inspiring all of us to pursue our dreams. I love you little sis!!!!!!”

It is not just the superstars of yesterday and today, but those of the future who have drawn inspiration from Williams. Coco Gauff, who at age 18 is already the 12th ranked player in the world and has been referred to as the future of U.S. tennis, also honored Williams.

“It is because of you I believe in this dream,” Gauff said.

Even Tomljanovic, who defeated Williams Friday night, took time to eloquently reflect on her opponent’s impact.

“I’m feeling really sorry just because I love Serena just as much as you guys do,” Tomljanovic said. “What she’s done for me, for the sport of tennis, is just incredible. I never thought I’d have a chance to play her in her last match when I was a kid watching her in all those finals. This is a surreal moment for me.”

After that tough loss, Williams also recognized her opponent. She thanked her parents, her sister Venus, and all those who have helped her along the way.

“It’s been the most incredible ride and journey I’ve ever been on in my life,” Williams said Friday night. “I’m just so grateful to every single person that’s ever said, ‘Go, Serena!’ in their life.”

She once again, perhaps for the last time on the court, showed us all why she deserves her place among the greatest athletes of all time. And we’re grateful for that.