Serena Williams US Open 2022: Her last match

Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

It seems like an obvious ending to the best story ever: Serena Williams, one of the most iconic tennis stars in millennia who transformed the game’s brand and business, is leaving to use those skills in her own business, where instincts and momentum she’s learned will help her do a whole different kind of job, one where she’s the deal breaker and not the product. This transition has an advantage; it doesn’t perfectly match what we see from most superstars.

Most superstars cling to relevance and fame for life, reinventing themselves in the shape of the zeitgeist every few decades to remain marketable. We don’t expect anyone to give this up voluntarily if they don’t have to. Serena doesn’t have to give up superstar status to take this next step in her life — she will always be the greatest athlete of all time — but the decision to give up that career and make a career change is a move that was made without precedent . and also with much sadness. “It’s the hardest thing I could ever imagine,” she said Fashion Last month. “I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next.”

Few athletes, particularly black women, retire voluntarily. They retire because the sport no longer has a place for them because their bodies are too broken to beat the younger athletes they compete against. Still winning (see: her stunning loss to Anett Kontaveit in the second round of the US Open on Wednesday), Serena is still viewed as the GOAT, even by the younger players, whom she sometimes, if rarely, defeats in a match to have. Serena isn’t retiring because she has to, she’s retiring because the rest of her life is calling: a new career; a young marriage; an adorable daughter who really wants a little sister.

Serena Williams is once again a pioneer in doing what most of us struggle to imagine – this time she’s laying down the reins of one life to seize the reins of a new one.

In black communities in particular, retirement is a joyful occasion—and a heavy ritual. After more than 50 years of work, we rent out halls and cook big meals and buy white wine to celebrate our elders as they enter the final phase of their professional journey, the phase that launches them into a scary new conversation about the beginning of the end . My grandmother retired in her 70s — she would have worked longer if she hadn’t been ill — and when I asked her what she was going to do next, she said, “Go sit down.” It was funny in hers singing Caribbean accent, but I remember it made me sad. She sat in the small apartment where I spent my childhood weekends until she couldn’t come down the stairs and had to have groceries delivered. For our grandmothers, retirement was the chance to finally settle down and take stock. But it feels unfair that by the time she was able to sit down, she was too tired to do anything else.

Social security benefits are expected to expire in 2034. The earth and our ecosystems are in crisis – life as we know it is changing rapidly due to global warming. Retirement means something different to me than it did to my grandparents. Anyway, Serena’s retirement, which she prefers to call “evolution,” is the only retirement model that interests me. I watch Serena leave behind the girl she used to be and it makes me want to step away as much as possible. I want to retire as often as possible, I want to retire once every ten years, no matter how painful it is. I want to be sick of the girl I used to be and leave her behind for a better version; for a version that lives in a different country, that writes different kinds of stories, that does different kinds of jobs. I want to retire to be a painter and then I want to get so good and so tired of being a painter that I become a terrible filmmaker. I want a new career at 30 and a new career at 60 and then again at 80. A person can live many lifetimes – Serena’s transition is a reminder that maybe we all should.

I know that my mother – a lawyer who wanted to be an architect – always felt she had too much responsibility and too little confidence to make a career change. As she nears her 50s, I wish I could give her the confidence and self-love it takes to make the kind of decision Serena made — a decision rooted in adventure rather than necessity. She thinks that time has left her behind or that she will not be one of those people to take selfish risks, a perspective shared by many black women because our lives have been shaped around work and responsibility, rarely our actual ones humanity and needs. I try to explain to my mother that this is a myth: that it doesn’t matter that we’re not rich or famous or well connected. I try to tell her that you don’t have to be a superstar to change your mind.

I won’t miss Serena. I look up their old matches on YouTube and watch every human-made documentary about them. I will continue to compare every newcomer to her, no matter how unfair (sorry!) and wish someone could bring her strength, grace, tenacity and strategy to justice. Sometimes I’m satisfied, mostly I’m disappointed. I’ll take another young black tennis player (I’m already a big fan of Naomi Osaka and Sloane Stephens) and listen to all the photos Serena posts with yachts on them. I won’t miss her because she didn’t ask to be missed. She retired without anyone’s permission and made the decision to do something else with her life. She doesn’t owe us to be the Serena we’ve always known, nor does she owe us to spend the rest of her life performing for our inspiration or entertainment.

In this next life, Serena Williams can be whoever she wants to be, and that’s enough inspiration for 1,000 victories. Because in a world where the definition of freedom depends on who you are, choosing a new life is just because the old one — the old career, the old relationship, this old way of being — can no longer give you that what you need is the closest thing to true freedom many of us will ever get.

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