‘Greatest player’: Billie Jean King leads tennis tributes to Serena Williams

Billie Jean King, the former women’s world No 1, has led tributes within tennis to Serena Williams, describing her as the sport’s “greatest player” following the 23-time grand slam singles champion’s announcement that she is retiring.

In a column for Vogue, the 40-year-old Williams described her intention to finish her playing career as an “evolution” away from tennis and indicated she could step away after the upcoming US Open.

“When Serena steps away from tennis, she will leave as the sport’s greatest player,” said King, the winner of 12 grand slam singles titles, including six at Wimbledon. “After a career that has inspired a new generation of players and fans, she will forever be known as a champion who won on the court and raised the global profile of the sport off of it.”

Speaking to USA Today, the former men’s world No 1, John McEnroe, said of Williams: “She should do whatever she wants. She’s an icon. Her place in American society has gone to a place where she deserves it after everything she’s accomplished, everything she’s done.

“I don’t know the answer whether she wants to play again, I don’t think she needs to play again. She’s in that level where Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Tom Brady are. She’s like one of the all-time greatest athletes in the history of any sport – male or female. It seems to be a great place in her life. She’s added a lot.

“Anyone that saw the movie [King Richard] realises where they came from and where she is now is unbelievable so she can spend the rest of her life going ‘not bad huh?’”

Meanwhile, Coco Gauff, the current world No 11, hailed Williams as the very reason she took up the sport in the first place. “I grew up watching her. That’s the reason why I play tennis,” said Gauff after her first-round victory at the Canadian Open in Toronto on Tuesday. “Tennis being a predominantly white sport, it definitely helped a lot. Because I saw somebody who looked like me dominating the game. It made me believe that I could dominate too.”

Paying her own tribute to Williams, Emma Raducanu, the US Open champion, said: “She definitely changed the game. There’s not really been someone who has dominated like her in the women’s game. So I think she did change the game a lot in that respect.”

Pam Shriver, the former world No 3, added: “She [Williams] has impacted tennis on the court and off the court. She’s taken tennis off the sports pages and into pop culture. She bridges people of all generations, diversity of background. She’s become a great spokesperson, a philanthropist and she’s matured before our eyes.”