Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes of all time, announced on Tuesday that she will retire from tennis following the 2022 US Open at the end of August.
In a piece she penned for Vogue, as well as in a post on Instagram, the 23-time Grand Slam champion said that while she still loves tennis, she’s ready to move on to new things.
For the last five years, it was no longer a question of if Williams would retire, but when. In 2017 at age 35, she won Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant with her daughter, but in September she needed an emergency C-section to give birth. She developed a pulmonary embolism following the operation, which kept her in bed for six weeks.
There was speculation then that Williams would retire, but she came back, playing through postpartum depression and while breastfeeding. She had chances to win a major, but couldn’t get there. Her best chance might have been at Wimbledon in 2021. Coming into that 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 yearlong absence from tennis fueled speculation that she might never play again. She came back once again in June, though now we know it was just the beginning of her farewell tour.
Even though it’s something she knew was coming soon, the decision to retire was far from easy. In Vogue, Williams wrote that she hasn’t really been able to discuss even the possibility of retirement with anyone, only bringing it up with her therapist.
"But I’ve been reluctant to admit to myself or anyone else that I have to move on from playing tennis," Williams wrote. "Alexis, my husband, and I have hardly talked about it; it’s like a taboo topic. I can’t even have this conversation with my mom and dad. It’s like it’s not real until you say it out loud. It comes up, I get an uncomfortable lump in my throat, and I start to cry. The only person I’ve really gone there with is my therapist!"
Williams’ plans after retirement
Even though she’s calling this a "retirement," she doesn’t really like that word.
"Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution," Williams said in Vogue. "I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me."
And those "other things" are plentiful. She founded Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm, several years ago. Companies started by women and people of color make up 78 percent of their investment portfolio, and Williams said she’s excited to focus more on her firm.
She’s also planning to expand her family with her husband, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian. They already have a daughter, Olympia, who turns five in August, and she wants to be a big sister.
"Sometimes before bed, [Olympia] prays to Jehovah to bring her a baby 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 this has felt like a moment I need to listen very carefully to."
Williams knew that to have another child, she needed to decide between that and tennis — a decision 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 guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family. Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity."
While Williams wishes she didn’t have to make that decision, she knew she didn’t want to be pregnant while playing tennis.
"These days, if I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter."
Despite her plans for life after tennis, Williams has mixed feelings about retiring.
"I know it’s not the usual thing to say, but I feel a great deal of pain. It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine. I hate it. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I keep saying to 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’s not looking for "some ceremonial, final on-court moment" at the US Open at the end of August. She knows that it’s likely she won’t win, even though she intends to give it her all. But win or lose, she’s proud of winning 23 Grand Slam tournaments, the most of 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, an athlete, a woman, and a woman of color, she’s opened doors for so many.
"I’d like to think that thanks to opportunities afforded to me, women athletes feel that they can be themselves on the court," Williams wrote. "They can play with aggression and pump their fists. They can be strong yet beautiful. They can wear what they want and say what they want and kick butt and be proud of it all."
For 20 years, Serena Williams was women’s tennis, and her legacy is untouchable. Even though she’s decided to move on, she’s a legend who brought the sport to new heights. She may no longer be playing, but she’s made her mark on every tennis court in the world.