Saying “the countdown has begun,” 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams announced Tuesday that she is ready to retire from tennis so she can turn her focus to having another child and her business interests, heralding the end of a career. which transcended sports.
In an essay published on Tuesday by Vogue magazine, and a poster about Instagram — the kinds of direct-to-fan communication favored by celebrities these days, a category she’s most certainly suited to — Williams wasn’t entirely clear on the timeline for her last match, but she sounded like it could be at the US Open.which begins on August 29 in New York.
“There comes a time in life when we have to decide to move in a different direction. That time is always difficult when you love something so much. God, do I enjoy tennis. But now, the countdown has begun,” Williams, who will turn 41 next month, wrote on Instagram. “I have to focus on being a mom, my spiritual goals and finally discovering a different, but just (as) exciting Serena. I’m going to enjoy these next weeks. “
Williams, one of the greatest and most accomplished athletes in the history of her – or any other – sport, wrote in the essay that she does not like the word “retirement” and prefers to think of this stage of her life as “evolving away from tennis, to other things that are important to me.”
“I feel great pain. It is the hardest thing I could ever imagine. I hate it. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads,” she wrote. “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 finished, but at the same time I am ready for the next one.”
That she would publicly consider the end of her playing days is not entirely surprising, given her age – her 10 Grand Slam titles after turning 30 is unsurpassed – her history of injuries and her recent record: one singles match win in the past 12 months ( that victory came on Monday in Toronto; she is scheduled to play again on Wednesday).
“Serena Williams is a generational, if not multigenerational, talent who has had a profound impact on the game of tennis, but an even greater influence on women in sports, business and society. At a time when our nation and the world are grappling with vital issues of identity, Serena stood as a singular example of the best of humanity after breaking through countless barriers to her participation and ultimate success,” US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster said. “She leaves an indelible legacy of grace and grit that will inspire athletes, female and male, for generations to come. We cannot thank her enough for all she has done for our sport.”
Williams’ status as an athlete, and trailblazer, is obvious to all.
She was the first black woman since Althea Gibson in 1958 to win a Grand Slam title; Williams and her older sister, seven-time major singles champion Venus, helped broaden the sport’s audience and attract new players.
“I grew up watching her. I mean, that’s the reason why I play tennis,” Coco Gauff, an 18-year-old African-American who was the runner-up at this year’s French Open, said Tuesday. “Tennis being a predominantly white sport, it definitely helped a lot because I saw someone who looked like me dominating the game. And it made me believe that I could do it too.”
US Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier said the organization would “operate under the assumption that this will be Serena Williams’ last US Open”.
It is the final Grand Slam event of the year and one she has won six times, most recently in 2014, to go along with seven titles each at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, plus three at the French Open, across a career notable for its peaks and its longevity.
She also owns 14 Grand Slam doubles championships, all won with Venus, part of a remarkable story of two siblings from Compton, California, who both grew up to be ranked No. 1, win dozens of trophies and dominate tennis for stretches – a. a story told in the Oscar-winning film “King Richard.”
Venus, who is 42 and still competing, was the first in the family to break through, reaching her first Grand Slam final at the 1997 US Open. But it was Serena who soon surpassed her sister, winning the 1999 US Open at the age of 17 and then going on to add 22 more such triumphs (Venus won seven major singles), eventually establishing herself as a one-of-a-kind superstar. , known for much more than her talent with a racket in hand.
The younger Williams was armed with as effective a serve as she’s ever been, powerful forehands and backhands, instincts and speed that allowed her to cover every inch of court and switch from defense to offense in the blink of an eye, and an enviable will to win. That unwavering desire to be the best helped make her the best — and also sometimes got her into chair umpires during matches, most notoriously during the 2018 US Open final, which she lost to Naomi Osaka, a woman more than a decade her junior. who grew idolizing Williams, like many of today’s players.
The official Twitter feed for Wimbledon posted this message on Tuesday above a photo of Williams: “Some play the game. Others change it.”
“I don’t particularly like to think about my legacy. I get asked about it a lot, and I never know exactly what to say. But I’d like to think that thanks to opportunities given to me, female athletes feel like they can be themselves on the court,” Williams wrote. “They can play with aggression and pump their fists. They may be strong but beautiful. They can wear what they want and say what they want and kick ass and be proud of it all.”
The American has won more Grand Slam singles titles in the professional era than any other woman or man. Only one player, Margaret Court, has collected more, 24, although the Australian won a share of hers in the amateur era.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. Obviously I do. But day to day, I really don’t think about her. If I’m in a Grand Slam final, then yes, I think about that record,” Williams said. “Maybe I was thinking too much about it, and that didn’t help. The way I see it, I should have more than 30 Grand Slams.”
But, Williams went on to write, “These days, if I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”
She and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, have a daughter, Olympia, who turns 5 on September 1.
“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and family. I don’t think it’s fair,” said Williams, who was pregnant when she won the 2017 Australian Open for her last Grand Slam trophy. “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 work to grow our family.”
Williams said she and Ohanian want to have a second baby, and wrote: “I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete. I have to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.”
She has been off the tour for about a year after being injured during her first-round match at Wimbledon in 2021. She returned to singles competition at the All England Club this June and lost in the first round.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t ready to win Wimbledon this year. And I don’t know if I’ll be ready to win New York,” Williams wrote in her essay. “But I’ll try.”
Williams suggested in the Vogue essay that the US Open would be her last tournament but did not say so explicitly.
“I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment,” Williams wrote. “I’m terrible at goodbyes, the worst in the world.”
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