The world first met Serena Williams when she was 17, with beaded pigtails, overwhelming strength and precocious intelligence and poise, when she stunned her sport by winning the first of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles at the 1999 US Open.
Thus began a journey that, with much help from her sister Venus and her pioneering parents, would change the game, transcending tennis to transforming Williams into a beacon of fashion, entertainment and business, transforming the way people in and outside of sport see women Athletes looked at .
On Tuesday, Williams set the stage for the tennis portion of this trip to end at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the US Open, where so many championships, fights, fists and cries of “Come on!” began. before.
In an I article in Vogue’s famed September issue, published online on Tuesday, Williams said she plans to retire from the sport after playing for her 21st time at the US Open, which is later this month start. And as she has done for more than two decades, Williams made the announcement with her own unique twist in which she said like I said cover story that she “never liked the word retirement” and prefers the word “evolution” to describe her next steps.
“I’m evolving away from tennis towards other things that are important to me,” including working with her venture capital firm and growing her family, she said.
Williams wasn’t explicit about when she might stop playing, but she was hinted at on Instagram that the US Open could be her last tournament while leaving the door a little open to continue or come back, as players who retire often do. “The countdown has started,” she said, adding, “I’m going to enjoy these next few weeks.”
Williams is playing in a US Open Tuneup tournament in Toronto this week and is scheduled to play in Cincinnati next week.
When asked Monday what motivates her after her straight-set win over Spain’s Nuria Parrizas-Diaz, Williams said, “The light at the end of the tunnel.”
“It’s been that for me lately,” she added. “I can’t wait to reach that light.”
Though some in tennis are skeptical that Williams will retire any time soon, saying goodbye to the stage at this year’s US Open would be a fitting end to her illustrious career. Williams has won the singles title there six times, from 1999, as she surpassed her older sister Venus to win the family’s first Grand Slam championship 23 years ago, a number consistent with her career Grand Slam tally. The tournament was also the site of some of Williams’ deepest moments, including confrontations with referees and tournament officials in the 2009 semifinals and 2018 finals.
“It feels like the right exclamation point, the right ending,” said Pam Shriver, the former player and tennis commentator who was one of the great doubles champions of the 1980s. “Your score doesn’t matter.”
Williams’ tennis future was in doubt from the start forced to resign minutes into her first round match at Wimbledon last year after tearing her hamstring.
The injury put her out for almost a year. In fact, Shriver and others thought it likely that Williams would never officially retire, but would instead continue the existence she’d embraced for months following her tearful departure from Wimbledon.
That spring, however, Williams said she had an urge to play competitively again. In the Vogue story, she explained that Tiger Woods persuaded her to train hard for two weeks and see what happens. She didn’t immediately take his advice, but eventually started hitting and signed up to play in doubles at a pre-Wimbledon grass court tournament.
At Wimbledon, she played a spirited but inconsistent three-hour first-round match. Loss to Harmony Tan of France, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (7). She displayed flashes of the power and touch that had once made her nearly unbeatable, but lacked the fitness and match toughness that comes from being a regular on the WTA Tour.
Williams wrote that she and her husband, Alexis OhanianShe was planning on having another child, although she lamented the choice between having another child and pursuing her tennis career. She expressed envy that some male athletes, like 45-year-old NFL quarterback Tom Brady, were able to continue competing while their female spouses had children.
“As an athlete, I definitely don’t want to get pregnant again,” she said. “I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.”
Williams won her last Grand Slam tournament title while she was pregnant at the Australian Open 2017.
Williams has nearly $100 million in prize money, but her tennis career has done little to prevent her from pursuing her other interests. She has frequently helped design her tennis outfits. She was executive producer of “King Richard”. Oscar winning film about her family, which focused on how her father raised two girls from Compton, California to the top of the sport. In recent years, she became a venture capitalist and founded Serena Ventures, which invests in ideas and early-stage companies, many in technology and led by women.
On the tennis court, right now, Williams remains second only to Margaret Court from Australia at Grand Slam singles championships, a record she had many chances to tie and then surpass in 2018 and 2019 when she lost four Grand Slam finals without winning a set. However, with many of Court’s victories predating the modern era of professional tennis, that lack is unlikely to tarnish Williams’ legacy as the greatest tennis player, one of the greatest players, and one of the best athletes of all sports.
“When Serena retires from tennis, she will leave the sport as the greatest player,” said Billie Jean King, the sport’s champion and pioneer. “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 pitch and thereby raised the sport’s global profile.”
Beyond all championships – Williams has won 73 singles titles, 23 in doubles, two in mixed doubles and has played on four Olympic teams and won four gold medals – she is influencing how the world perceives female athletes and inspiring younger black girls to the now-leading American women’s tennis may be her greatest legacy.
With a unique blend of power, strength, speed, touch and the tennis intelligence that her dominance bred, Williams rendered the distinction between great male and female tennis players irrelevant in a way no woman had done before.
Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, the great male tennis players of the 21st century – and the greatest men’s football has ever produced – spoke of Williams as one of them.
Last year at the US Open, as the pressure mounted on Djokovic to win a rare calendar year Grand Slam, he said only Williams could understand what he was going through.
Williams arrived at the 2015 US Open after winning the first three Grand Slam singles titles of the year but losing to unseeded Roberta Vinci of Italy in the semifinals. Winning the title that year would have given her her fifth consecutive Grand Slam singles championship, as she had won four consecutive Grand Slam singles titles for the second time, a feat now known as the “Serena Slam.”
None of this surprised Rick Macci, the famous professional coach who rated Serena and Venus Williams playing in a seedy park in Compton three decades ago, when black girls, especially poor ones, rarely played tennis. At first Macci wasn’t impressed, but once the girls started playing points, everything changed.
“There was a rage in those two little kids when we were keeping the score,” Macci said in an interview on Tuesday. “They ran so fast they almost fell over. I took a big risk because I thought I saw it inside and I haven’t seen it since.”
Coco Gauff, the aspiring 18-year-old who is the youngest African-American player to bear the burden of being dubbed “the next Serena,” said Williams is “the reason I play tennis” after her win Tuesday in Toronto.
“I saw someone who looked like me dominating the game,” said Gauff, world number 11. “That made me think I could dominate too.”