Serena Williams: Tennis needs her more than ever after dominant decade

Serena Williams (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Serena Williams (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) /

No player has come close to Serena Williams on the WTA Tour during the 2010s and her star power is still unrivalled in tennis at the age of 38.

With the end of the decade now only little more than a week away, there can be no doubt Serena Williams has been the dominant women’s player of the 2010s.

Serena ends the decade having comprehensively reigned supreme at the top of the WTA Tour, adding 12 Grand Slam titles over the past 10 years. She also reached a further seven major finals.

That is 19 finals in the 33 Slams she was able to play and the contrast to the other top women’s stars of the decade is stark.

More from Lob and Smash

Angelique Kerber’s total of three majors won puts her in outright second in the list, the German having made a total of four finals.

Naomi Osaka only won her first major against Serena just over a year ago at the US Open.

But given how much others have struggled to consistently compete with the 23-time Grand Slam winner, the Japanese star’s current tally of two was good enough to join a cluster of eight players who sit in a tie for third position in this decade.

Serena has been the only dominant force in a decade where she inspired her legions of fans by returning to the highest level so late in her career after giving birth to her daughter in 2017.

It is the second straight decade where the veteran American has come out on top. In the 2000s she won 10 of her crowns, but got more of a fight as sister Venus won seven, with the same total achieved by Belgian Justine Henin.

Looking back at her most recent decade on court, the main negative for Serena will be losing six of her most recent eight Grand Slam finals, including each of the last four, leaving her just one behind the all-time record of 24 major wins held by Margaret Court.

More. Osaka says writing Serena off is 'silly'. light

But that keeps the fire burning heading into a new decade as the 38-year-old extends a remarkable professional career that began in 1995.

Serena Williams’ powerful results on the court are similar to her standing and popularity off it, which remains crucial for tennis, particularly the women’s game.

Take the FanSided 250 as one example, a measure of fans’ votes, social media numbers and search scores. Serena was ranked third in the list of sports figures ahead of legendary athletes from other sports like LeBron James, Tom Brady and Tiger Woods.

Each top sport only has very few figures who are instantly recognisable and generate interest even from those who are not regular fans. Some sports are unfortunate in that they do not have any. But Serena is undoubtedly one of those, in a similar way to Roger Federer in the men’s game.

Unlike Serena, though, the Swiss star has had worthy rivals, at least when it comes to on court results, through most of his career in the form of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Forbes’ most recent annual assessment of sports showed Serena was the world’s highest-earning female athlete. It was to tennis’ credit that its players dominated the list and other sports remain so far behind, though of the current crop in the WTA Tour, Osaka is the only one coming anywhere near to her marketing power and appeal.

Much has been made of the depth of young talent that continues to emerge in the women’s game, all of which is accurate.

Osaka is already a multiple time major winner and is developing a global reach of support. Bianca Andreescu, who beat Serena in the US Open final, has given Canada realistic hope of having tennis’ next big star, while Cocomania has only just got started after Coco Gauff’s sensational arrival this year.

Trending. Andreescu tops Gauff for key WTA award. light

There are many others who have worthy claims as well and the Slams in the next year or two will be a fascinating watch as the battle to succeed Serena as figurehead of the women’s game goes on.

But take Serena away from the Tour in 2020 and a huge void at the top would be all too apparent.

Much like with Woods in the world of golf, where Serena goes, interest follows. For tournament attendances, television ratings, sponsorship funds and the health of the sport, she is still needed more than ever, at least until one or two names have definitively emerging from a crowded pack of talent underneath her.

The situation may be different in a year or two, at which point, her fans will hope, Serena has not only equalled but also surpassed Court’s famous Grand Slam mark.

By that point, Osaka’s appeal and fanbase might have grown further, Andreescu may have added to her major collection,Gauff could be significantly more established or another star could have taken up the mantle.

But these things take time and there have been plenty of false dawns in the past on the WTA Tour, when players have not developed as expected after bursting onto the scene and achieving initial success.

For now, Serena Williams remains the WTA Tour’s shining light and the longer she is around, the greater the chance of some other formidable figures and another true star emerging from an impressive group of talent to take the sport forward.

While she will not end the 2020s as the new decade’s dominant force, Serena will start it remaining as the star attraction of women’s tennis.

Another reason she is still needed? All eyes are on whether she can break new ground by achieving a Grand Slam record that, if achieved, may stand for decades to come.

If she can do that before retiring it would give tennis a final gift with coverage and interest at a whole new level to what we have seen before, particularly given how close she has come previously before falling just short.

Next. Sweet Caroline! Her best WTA achievements. dark

But whatever happens from now, tennis fans can reflect on two decades’ worth of dominance and be thankful Serena Williams is still around for the start of an exciting new era in the 2020s.