It had the makings of a fairytale run.
Women’s tennis GOAT, Serena Williams, playing in what she has said is her last U.S. Open, won both her first and second-round matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.
On hand to watch her compete was a who’s-who list of celebrities, including one Tiger Woods.
Photos of Woods fist-pumping throughout Williams’ second-round victory were widely circulated on social media, and in a recently-published essay for Vogue in which she announced her plans for retirement, Williams revealed that she and Woods share a close friendship:
“This spring, I had the itch to get back on the court for the first time in seven months,” she wrote. “I was talking to Tiger Woods, who’s a friend, and I told him I needed his advice on my tennis career. I said, ‘I don’t know what to do: I think I’m over it, but maybe I’m not over it.’ He’s Tiger, and he was adamant that I be a beast the same way he is! He said, ‘Serena, what if you just gave it two weeks? You don’t have to commit to anything. You just go out on the court every day for two weeks and give it your all and see what happens.’ I said, ‘All right, I think I can do that.’ And I didn’t do it. But a month later, I gave it a try. And it felt magical to pick up a racket again. And I was good. I was really good.
After Williams won her second-round match against World No. 2 Anett Kontaveit, she thanked Woods for his support in her post-match interview.
“Yeah, he’s one of the reasons I’m here, one of the main reasons I’m still playing,” she said. “So we talked a lot. He was really trying to get me motivated. There’s a few people, but we were like, ‘Okay, we can do this together,’ you know?
“It was good, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do … was just lost, so many questions,” she continued. “When you can rely on someone like that, I mean — my goodness, he’s Tiger Woods — it was really helpful to get clarity.”
The idea of Williams giving it one last run in an effort to match Margaret Court’s pre-Open-era grand slam total of 24 is a story that transcends the sport of tennis. It’s no surprise that Williams turned to Woods for guidance. Her quest is reminiscent to Woods’ own endeavor to match Nicklaus’ historic major total of 18.
That’s why her third-round loss on Saturday to Australian Ajla Tomaljanovic was so poignant. As soon as the match was over, the tributes started pouring in from some of the most notable names in sports, including Lebron James, Billie Jean King, Patrick Mahomes, Derek Jeter, and of course, Woods himself.
“Serena Williams, you’re literally the greatest on and off the court,” Woods wrote. “Thank you for inspiring all of us to pursue our dreams. I love you little sis!!!!!!”
Now perhaps its Wlliams’ turn to motivate Woods’ next comeback.