Documenting Serena Williams: The timeless moments that defined her legendary career


For Serena Williams, her very essence can be summed up in nine short words: “expecting the best from myself and proving people wrong.”

In a first-person essay for Vogue earlier this month, the 23-time Grand Slam champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist dropped the blockbuster news that she would be “evolving away from tennis.” Hesitant to use the word “retirement” but undeniably laying out the strategy for her next chapter, the 40-year-old Williams wrote candidly about her desire to expand her family and her excitement at delving more into business via Serena Ventures, a capital venture firm.

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“I always thought that she’s really power and grace, so I think [this photo] kind of sums it up perfectly,” says Stockman. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

But before turning the page to that next chapter, Williams appears poised for once last run at glory. She’ll take center stage Monday night at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where she’ll face 80th-ranked Danka Kovinic of Montenegro in a first-round match at the U.S. Open. How far she’ll go in the tournament remains to be seen, but Monday marks a full-circle moment for Williams, who won her first major title in New York 23 years ago.

During her nearly 30-year career, Williams won six singles titles and two doubles titles with her sister, Venus Williams, at Flushing Meadows, where she’ll team with Venus once more for doubles competition beginning Wednesday. As the countdown to Serena’s last stand ticks on, On Her Turf talked with several visual journalists who’ve enjoyed a courtside view to an icon in the making.

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“My favorite thing is that she didn’t hide her emotions,” says Garrison. “As a photographer, we love that, because then you could make that human connection when someone’s looking at your picture of her celebrating … You can feel a trigger response.” (Photo by Elsa Garrison/Getty Images)

“It feels like the Super Bowl every time she plays,” said Getty Images photographer Sarah Stier. “She’s an athlete that really transcends her sport, … so when I cover her, I cover her like a Tom Brady.

“I’m always looking for these very like stoic moments because she is an athlete that’s going to be remembered for a very, very long time, even after she stops playing. And so my coverage of her goes beyond the action, and it goes, I think, even beyond the emotion. She is a very emotional athlete when she competes, but I think I’m always trying to look for a moment that will be timeless and will represent her in history as the greatest ever do it.”

2018 US Open - Day 5
“I love the opportunity to be able to cover [Venus and Serena] playing against each other and to have a frame that puts them … on different planes,” said Stier. “They’re not actually looking right at each other, but I just love that moment of togetherness between the two of them.”(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

However, it was Stier who captured a now infamous moment in Williams’ career, during her 2018 U.S. Open final match against Naomi Osaka. Upset by a warning from chair umpire Carlos Ramos, who said he witnessed a code violation for coaching, Williams unleashed on Ramos, saying in part, “I don’t cheat to win; I would rather lose. I am just letting you know.”

“It’s so hard because I feel like when these moments are happening right in front of you, you know that it’s going to be a very important story, and so you’re just kind of going through the motions to capture everything,” Stier recalls, admitting she also felt nervous in the moment as it was her first time shooting a Grand Slam final.

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Serena Williams argues with chair umpire Carlos Ramos during the 2018 U.S. Open final. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

“I had no idea what she was arguing, I couldn’t really tell. But I do remember, I had to like watch things a few days later and decide was this controversial? Was it not? And people would ask me afterwards what I thought, and I think I still didn’t know, but I just think, ‘Okay, how many male athletes have we seen yell at a referee, tennis players yell at an umpire?’ And people were attacking her for how she handled this moment. And you could go on and on about how she could or couldn’t have handled the moment. But the bottom line is we’ve seen people do this before, and she doesn’t have to act a certain way just because she’s a woman.”

“No matter what it is, she’s always brings the same intensity and passion to whatever she does,” said fellow Getty Images photographer Elsa Garrison, whose career covering tennis nearly mirrors Williams’. More than 50 tournaments and 20 years later, Garrison says she’s felt Serena’s impact personally.

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“It was always like, ‘What is she going to walk out wearing, you know? And how can showcase that? Every match was like a fashion show,” said Garrison. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

“It’s been really cool to see not only her being an advocate for women and women’s sports, but also, as far as what expectations put on women, or how we’re supposed to see ourselves, and for me to see her not accepting anything less than what she wants and what she needs and what she is going after, and to go after things so unapologetically, to be fierce, and to let your emotions out and for it to be like perfectly okay and acceptable, it’s inspiring. That’s what women are supposed to be able to do.”

For Garrison, Stier and colleague Matthew Stockman, the visual feast that comes with covering Serena has been a bit like Thanksgiving mixed with a dash of Christmas. From her glam appearance and her barrier-pushing on-court fashion to the parade of famous faces in the stands, covering Williams’ career has morphed into a documenting the life and impact of a true icon.

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“People lost their minds when she wore this catsuit in 2018, and now I see people walking down the streets of Denver wearing the same thing,” said Stockman. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

“She brought all these people together and expanded the whole fan base of tennis, you know?” said Stockman, who’s also spent more than 20 years covering Williams. “These are fans that came to the game because of her. … She brought them to the game, she brought them in the gates, and opened up tennis – and especially the women’s game – to a much broader audience.”

Her impact is palpable this week in New York, where the Getty Images team arrived prior to Wednesday in order to capture every practice session leading up to Williams’ first-round match. While the team is maxed out at eight photographers at the tournament, Getty Images will place a majority of photographers on her matches, knowing that every moment holds huge significance.

“I think it’s going to make it obviously pretty stressful for all of us, because we want to be able to cover this moment in the most comprehensive and the best way possible,” said Stier. “We’re going to have so many people there, so we are going to be able to get that done. But I think with anything that’s never happened before — obviously, athletes have retired before, but Serena has never retired before — so we don’t know how it’s all going to unfold and how it will play out, but I do think that it will make covering this tournament incredibly memorable.”

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Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Getty Images

It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

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ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
Getty Images

The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.

How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.

Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.

More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.