The impossible happens. Serena Williams, arguably the greatest athlete who ever lived, has said she will retire from tennis after playing the US Open, which starts on August 29. She announced the stunning news in a personal essay published in Vogue on Tuesday. “I’m here to tell you that I’m moving from tennis to other things that are important to me,” Williams wrote. While we have to commend Williams for ending, on her terms, “a story that started in Compton, California, with a little black girl who just wanted to play tennis,” we must also, like her, acknowledge the grief.
Serena Williams, arguably the greatest athlete who ever lived, has said she will retire from tennis after playing the US Open.
“There is no luck in this subject for me,” Williams writes. “I know it’s not customary to say, but I feel a lot of pain. It’s the hardest thing I can ever imagine. I hate it.” Williams is a competitor who is willing to compete against anyone, regardless of age, to remind us of her greatness. It’s undoubtedly hard to leave the sport she’s remade in her image, but after learning that her daughter Olympia wanted a sibling, Williams, 40, she realized that if she wants to have more children, she would have to do it sooner rather than later.She had life-threatening complications after Olympia’s birth in 2017 , and the older she gets, the greater her risk.
“I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete,” writes Williams, who won the Australian Open in 2017 while pregnant. “I have to be two feet in tennis or two feet out.” In many ways, Williams’ retirement announcement is a meditation on the double standards mothers are subjected to, no matter what career they choose. In fact, her essay is as much about the cultural pressures placed on mothers as it is about retirement itself. “If I were a man I wouldn’t be writing this because I would be playing and winning there while my wife did the physical work to expand our family,” she writes. “Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that chance.”
The ability of 45-year-old Brady to retire to spend time with his family and retire 40 days later is only possible because he has a wife who can handle the upbringing of the children. Nor does he have to carry those children or face a culture where mothers are treated as if they are not the best stewards of their own bodies. Instead, successful male athletes whose careers have been so long—think Brady, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James—are not questioned about what their dedication to their sport is costing their families. There is no societal guilt for prioritizing career over family, nor does having a family prompt the public to question whether they can continue to perform at an elite level.
After Williams gave birth in 2017, there were questions about how good she could be. She played in four Grand Slam finals after returning to the game in 2018 and has enjoyed a Top 10 world ranking for part of that time. Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix, who said Nike offered to pay her 70% less to promote their products because she was pregnant, was left with the same questions. Not only did she decide to launch her own shoe brand instead, but at last year’s games in Tokyo, she won bronze and gold, breaking Carl Lewis’s record of becoming the most decorated American track and field Olympian in history.
We can now enjoy the brilliance that Williams has brought to the court and to our wider culture.
Aside from the layered reasons she left the sport, we can now enjoy the brilliance that Williams has brought to the court and our wider culture. We should all bow to her in thanks for giving us so much. Watching Williams play was like watching Jesus walk on water: beautiful, graceful, and full of inexplicable power. When she was at her best, it could bring you to tears. Now, as she turns to the life she desires, a life that isn’t about winning championships but about taking the best care of herself and her family, we’ll have the memories of her greatness to cross over us.
We all knew this day would come. Williams finally turned pro in 1995 at the age of 14. Do you know how long ago 1995 was? TLC’s “Waterfalls” topped the charts. “Braveheart” and “Batman Forever” were screened in theaters. That feels like a very different world, but since winning her first Grand Slam in 1999, Williams has been a cultural mainstay, rising to the top of her sport and staying there and, beyond her big sister Venus, facing very few challengers. the throne . It’s impossible to imagine tennis without the Williams sisters, their braided beads and colorful outfits, and their undeniable confidence.
Both on and off the field, the sisters embodied what it means to be a top athlete: winning titles, breaking records and remaining unflappable even in the face of relentless doubt, criticism and racism from the sport’s spectators. May we never forget the scrutiny that both sisters were subjected to, especially after they started winning Grand Slams. There was the racist chanting at Indian Wells that caused the sisters to refuse to participate in that tournament for over a decade. There was the racist rumor that the muscular Serena Williams is not a cisgender woman. There was an unhealthy obsession with her on-field decorum and the constant criticism that the anger she sometimes showed was “unprofessional” and cast a shadow over the sport.
Through it all, Williams kept her eye on the prize: 23 Grand Slam trophies for singles, 14 Grand Slam trophies for doubles, and four Olympic gold medals — and all through it for black women. She never shied away from discussing the pitfalls society creates for black women, whether it be speaking openly about the colorism she faced or voicing a universal complaint from black women that black women should be twice as good at half. to get this far. And now that she’s leaving tennis, she’s turning her attention to Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. She says in Vogue that 78% of the companies Serena Ventures invests in are founded by women and people of color. That’s who Serena Williams is.
While we won’t see Williams on the court again, a growing number of black girls and women, including Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff, are rising through the tennis ranks while prioritizing their mental and emotional health because Williams showed them that they that could. It is impossible to sum up such an incredible career. There are not enough words. But if the next set of Williams’ life resembles the first set, we can expect a strong, powerful, graceful, shining star – because that’s who she is and always will be. Our GOAT, the greatest of all time, from now to eternity.
CORRECTION (Aug 10, 2022, 9:26 PM ET): Serena Williams’ age was misreported in an earlier version of this article. She’s 40, not 41.