Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes of all time, announced Tuesday that she would be retiring from tennis after the 2022 US Open in late August.
In a piece she wrote for Vogue, as well as in a post on Instagram, the 23-time Grand Slam winner said that while she still loves tennis, she is ready to try new things.
For the past five years, the question hasn’t been if Williams would retire, it’s been a question of when. In 2017, aged 35, she won the Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant with her daughter, but in September she needed an emergency C-section to give birth. After the operation, she developed a pulmonary embolism that kept her bedridden for six weeks.
There was speculation at the time that Williams would retire, but she came back and played through postpartum depression and while breastfeeding. She had chances to win a Major but failed to make it. She would have had her best chance at Wimbledon in 2021. When she came to this tournament, she was playing her best tennis since returning from maternity leave. But a leg injury forced her to retire in the first round and her years away from tennis fueled speculation she might never play again. She returned once more in June, although we now know it was just the beginning of her farewell tour.
Though she knew it was coming soon, the decision to retire was far from easy. In Vogue, Williams wrote that she couldn’t even discuss the possibility of retirement with anyone, only talked to her therapist about it.
“But I was reluctant to admit to myself or anyone else that I need to get away from playing tennis.” Williams wrote. “Alexis, my husband and I hardly talked about it; it’s such a taboo subject. I can’t even have that conversation with my mom and dad. It’s like it’s not real until you say it out loud. I get an uncomfortable lump in my throat and start to cry. The only person I actually went there with is my therapist!”
Williams’ plans after retirement
Although she calls it “retirement,” she doesn’t really like the word.
“Perhaps is the best word to describe what I intend to do Evolution,” Williams said in Vogue. “I’m here to tell you I’m evolving away from tennis and towards other things that are important to me.”
And these “other things” abound. A few years ago she founded Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Companies founded by women and people of color make up 78 percent of her investment portfolio, and Williams said she looks forward to focusing more on her firm.
She also plans to expand her family with her husband, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian. They already have a daughter, Olympia, who will be five in August, and she wants to be a big sister.
“Sometimes before bed [Olympia] pray to Jehovah to bring her a little sister. (She doesn’t want anything to do with a boy!) I’m the youngest of five sisters myself, and my sisters are my heroes, so it felt like a moment that I needed to listen to very carefully.”
Williams knew that in order to have another child, she had to choose between tennis and tennis — a choice male athletes don’t have to make.
“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a man I wouldn’t be writing this because I would be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical work to expand our family. Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had the chance.”
While Williams wished she didn’t have to make that decision, she knew she didn’t want to be pregnant playing tennis.
“Today, if I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”
Despite her plans for life after tennis, Williams has mixed feelings about retirement.
“I know it’s not the usual thing to say, but I feel a lot of pain. It’s the hardest thing I could ever imagine. I hate it. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I keep telling myself I wish it could be easy for me, but it’s not. I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next.”
Williams wrote that she wasn’t looking for “a ceremonial, last moment on the court” at the US Open in late August. She knows she probably won’t win, even though she plans to give it her all. But win or lose, she’s proud to have won 23 Grand Slam tournaments, the most by any tennis player, male or female, in the Open Era.
Williams doesn’t like to think about her legacy, but she knows that as a tennis player, athlete, woman and woman of color, she has opened doors for so many.
“I would like to believe that the opportunities I have given women athletes will feel like they can be themselves on the pitch,” Williams wrote. “They can play with aggression and pump their fists. You can be strong and yet beautiful. They can wear what they want and say what they want and kick ass and be proud of everything.”
Serena Williams was women’s tennis for 20 years and her legacy is untouchable. Despite choosing to continue, she is a legend who has taken the sport to new heights. She may not be playing anymore, but she’s made a name for herself on every tennis court in the world.