We never get to say goodbye anymore.
We’re not even a week out from the U.S. Open, or two weeks out from what was a pretty signature last match for Serena Williams. Oh sure, it was the third round, and we don’t identify Serena with third rounds. Which is sort of the point, as we’ll circle back around to. But she beat the No. 2 player in the world en route, in three sets no less, and went out in three sets. Serena gave everything she had, and it wasn’t enough, and that’s a fine ending for a legend. Not everyone gets the Sampras, but Sampras was in his early 30s. Eventually, even the greatest champion just doesn’t have enough in the tank. Considering all the injuries that Serena has been through, it was hardly a surprise.
There were tears, there were raucous cheers, and there was maximum respect. She didn’t go out on the trainer’s table, but out on her shield. Maybe not perfect, but certainly more than acceptable.
Well, Serena is already making noise that that night won’t be it. And here’s the quote that kind of makes one’s stomach gurgle.
“I mean, you never know,” Williams said when asked whether she could be persuaded to return to tennis. “I’ve just been saying that I think Tom Brady started a really cool trend.”
No. Just no. Tom Brady has never started a cool trend. Brady has chased whatever trend passed by his empty noodle in the hopes of remaining relevant to whatever advertiser has the slightest urge to throw him millions. He’s not on the cutting edge of anything. He is actually the bat signal for anything that’s overplayed, stale, and terrible. He’s your dad wearing a FUBU jacket (a scenario I in fact lived through). If Tom Brady does it, you know it’s played out.
And it’s also the desperate heave of an attention junkie. Brady didn’t even really retire. He didn’t miss anything. And we know now he was trying to leverage his retirement into a move to Miami. It wasn’t really about leaving the game behind. But it was also a way for Brady to soak in the adulation, have thousands of articles written about what a legend he was, do all the appearances, and then waltz on back anyway because he soon came to realize that all those tributes would soon disappear. He would be in the background. He couldn’t stand that.
But he’s not the first. Remember Brett Favre’s diva act that he pulled for years, trying to straddle the fence as long as he could so Packers fans, the media, and the NFL world as a whole would beckon him to come back until his shitkicker pecker was just tumescent enough? That went on until the Packers finally came to the conclusion that having their dreams of another Super Bowl end on yet another season-killing INT from Favre had gotten old and they were going to pivot to the guy who was better anyway. Then Favre pulled the same bullshit on the Jets, after leading them to squarely nothing, so he could play for the Vikings, whom he then kneecapped twice in the playoffs with unconscionable picks. Like everything with Brady the person, nothing of it is original.
We know it must be hard to let go. And Serena’s sister is still out there. But Venus is a different person, and though an all-time great in her own right, Venus’ raison d’etre has been to “be there” for a long time now. But that’s not Serena’s. Serena is there to win, to dominate. And that’s gone now. While the top of the WTA Tour always seems in flux (though Iga Swiatek seems to have a stranglehold now) the game has moved on. Maybe Serena can pop another major, but we’ve been saying that for a while now. And it’s not going to get easier in her 40s.
The thing about Serena, other than the accomplishments, was that it always felt like she didn’t give a flying fuck what anyone thought. Remember after the first game of every set, when every other player quickly returns to their chair and gets some water? And Serena would just walk to the other side of the court around the other side of the net? Ultimate IDGAF move. If Serena wanted to take some time to focus on fashion or acting? That’s what she’s going to do, she doesn’t care what you think. Players bitch about some of her antics? Don’t give a fuck. The crowd against her for years? Fuck that, she’ll win anyway. Skip out on Indian Wells for a decade because of their sickening booing of her and her sister? What Serena wants (and don’t think the crowd was on her side until recently).
Coming back now, or really ever, would feel like Serena can’t live without the adulation. An adulation she didn’t really have for a long time and made clear she didn’t need. She’s got things on her plate. She’s got stuff to do.
This isn’t it, Serena. Never follow Tom Brady.
Let’s end with another woman kicking her sport’s ass until it’s purple, and that’s Mallory Pugh of the Chicago Red Stars. Pugh is not only the entire sun of the Red Stars, nor just one of the best players in NWSL, but she’s now a vital player on the USWNT. There may be no more terrifying player on the break than Pugh right now, as the Kansas City Current found out all too violently on Wednesday night:
That’s some 90 yards combined that Pugh tore through with a vengeance without any K.C. player getting in phaser distance of her, and the first one included two nutmegs just to be impudent. Pugh is ramping up for next summer’s World Cup, and she could very easily be the USWNT’s best player.
When she gets into the open field, the feeling is akin to Bruce Banner stubbing a toe.