It was hard not to watch Serena Williams. And who would want to look away? Since she played her first U.S. Open, in 1998, she played with athleticism and emotion that quickly drew in even the most casual spectator. She married sport and entertainment in a way few other athletes have. Even when she was not moving, she was far from still.
New York Times photographers had their eyes, and lenses, on Williams since that first Open, when she lost to Irina Spirlea in the third round. It did not take long for Williams to figure out how to navigate the tournament: A year later, she won the title with a straight-sets victory against Martina Hingis.
Photographers captured Williams’s highs and lows from crowded courtside seating to the upper nosebleed seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium. They had cropped in close and had discovered unique vantage points to create images that spoke to her power and grace.
Williams played her first U.S. Open when she was 16 and walked off the court on Friday a few weeks from turning 41. There are countless images of her over the years, but when you look at images of her playing over the course of 25 years, her athleticism, intensity and sparkle are always in the frame.
2000: Serena Williams hitting a backhand during a third-round match. For the second straight year a Williams won the U.S. Open. In 2000, it was Venus as Serena lost to a finalist, Lindsay Davenport, in the quarterfinals.Credit…Vincent Laforet/The New York Times