Serena Williams will be something new in retirement: Relatable

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Throughout her career, Serena Williams has been untouchable and untouchable.

When she picked up a piece of exercise equipment—in her hands, a tennis racket turned into a hammer to dismantle perceptions of femininity, power, and blackness—she transcended our restrictive, societal labels. She never seemed interested in living there, in those little boxes we created so we could try to understand her.

Because no other athlete has performed in a body like hers, a work of art sculpted in weight rooms as heavenly blessed by the Creator, who appreciates the functionality and beauty of thick thighs and full hips. Although some critics have suggested and tried otherwise regulate their bodyshe has her curves cast in catsuits and tutu and all kinds of spandex, and still dominates.

She challenged our limits because No other woman in sport comes as close into the billionaire boys club she’s standing on the doorstep of, ready to storm through and then gracefully take her place as CEO of Serena Ventures.

How fitting that she named her firstborn Olympia. Because everything that comes from Serena exists above mortals.

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More force of nature than fragile human being, she has embodied the distant gulf between her adored and those who adore her. Personally, I’ve celebrated her and applauded all of her iterations, starting as the girl from Compton with beaded braids. Yet despite the clean narrative that someone who looks like me should look to her as a role model, I rarely saw myself in Serena Williams.

But now she’s never been so relatable.

She is over 40 and takes care of her life. she sees the end of their playing time, and there in the light is a woman who has already made a very difficult decision. The same made by almost every motivated, confident woman who has pursued her own dreams and climbed the corporate ladder.

Still the most influential tennis star of the 21st century, Serena is a celebrity who goes by her first name only. She possesses more wealth than many of us will ever see in our lives – as does little Olympia. How many other 4-year-olds have a lunch break but are also co-owners of a sports franchise?

However, Serena is also a woman who had to ask herself which is more important: her sporting career or her family?

She recognizes the injustice that exists on this issue. In the September cover story of FashionAs Serena says goodbye to tennis, she laments that if she were just a man, she wouldn’t have to choose between playing or expanding her family.

Because if she were a man, she could continue like NBA roleplayer Udonis Haslem, who is still at it at 42 Fields free agent offers ahead of his possible 20th season. Or like 45-year-old Tom Brady, whom we commend for wanting to play until his kids graduate from medical school.

She will soon be as old as Roger Federer, another tennis GOAT. But unlike Serena, he can make his comeback at 41 without having to weigh the impact it might have on his biological clock.

It’s not Father Time who defeats Serena. After winning 23 Grand Slams, she doesn’t give up because her muscles or her serves can no longer withstand younger challengers. She’s evolving—that’s what she calls retirement.

But mostly she chooses wholeness. She’s evolving as a person, no longer one-sidedly focused or consumed by the pursuit of unique success, and acknowledging another part of greatness. The way it is to be present as a parent. She’s spent more than 20 years chasing titles, but the same passion she put into this cause she’s going to pour into someone now.

There have been signs of this development for years. It started after Serena was born in 2017. Competition had always consumed her. She would grunt, curse, scream as she won her championships, but there was a greater purpose behind her intensity during the 2018 US Open final.

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At the world’s largest tennis court, Williams was cautioned for receiving coaching and she became angry. She interpreted this as an attack on her character, and Olympia’s mother didn’t want that.

Her voice was calm but excited, and then it cracked. Her eyes hardened with anger, but apparently only to stop the tears from flowing. She demanded to be heard and seen, and awaited the privileges that should be bestowed upon a person of her station, until she had to submit and play on.

“I have never cheated in my life,” she said, her voice breaking. “I have a daughter and I stand [for] what is right for her and i have never cheated on her and you owe me an apology!”

The scene played out for an awkward length of time. Even if she made points worthy of a mic drop – being punished as a game for calling the referee a “thief” when men hurled far worse insults for a lesser penalty – she still could have handled it better. Although some would write it off like Serena had a “meltdown“, a disparaging word, in that moment she was herself. The tennis star and the new mom. That was Serena Williams, the human, totally flawed and perfectly relatable.

Now Serena wants to expand her family and she knows she has to give up the noise to do it. While no man in her stratosphere would face that same choice, defining this as the end of Serena’s ambitions would be wrong. Her latest development shows strength and sacrifice, but also determination and a greater understanding that having everything can also mean making room for more than just yourself.

After all, what would it matter to be an icon to so many fans if your own daughter has to find a role model outside of her home? Olympia may be in the owner’s suite of NWSL team Angel City FC, but she’ll enter the Pre-K and hold her hero’s hand.

Still, Serena remains a trailblazer. She plans to grow her venture capital firm, whose portfolio is filled with companies started by women and people of color. She wants to have another child, and she may give birth to the next black billionaire.

This transition from immortal to mother of two will be both challenging and familiar, which is why so many women and mothers can now find themselves in this new Serena. Practical labels have never suited Serena, and “retired athlete” won’t either. Her legacy will continue to evolve, as will her image, only now it’s not quite as sacred.

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