Serena Williams: The Countdown Toward Retirement Has Begun

Serena Williams

WASHINGTON, August 10, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Serena Wiliams has never liked the word retirement, saying it doesn’t feel like a modern word to her.

However, on Tuesday morning, a day after Williams won her first WTA Tour singles match after turning 40, the 23-time Grand Slam champion – arguably the greatest women’s tennis player of all time – hinted in an interview with Vogue magazine that her storied career will soon to come an end.

An iconic champion and crossover star, Williams admitted she doesn’t like the word retirement, because “it doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution.”

Evolution as in evolving away from tennis toward other things that are important to Williams. Like her older sister Venus, who has created a large business footprint outside the baseline, a few years ago, Serena started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm “designed to do VC differently through standout strategies, bold initiatives, and a global network of investors, business leaders, and influencers.” Soon after, she started a family with her husband, Alexis Ohanian, an American-Armenian internet entrepreneur, when their daughter, Olympia, was born in September 2017.

“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,” Williams told writer Rob Haskell for Vogue, in an interview published Tuesday for its September issue. “Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity. Don’t get me wrong: I love being a woman, and I loved every second of being pregnant with Olympia.

“I was one of those annoying women who adored being pregnant and was working until the day I had to report to the hospital – although things got super complicated on the other side. And I almost did do the impossible: A lot of people don’t realize that I was two months pregnant when I won the Australian Open in 2017. But I’m turning 41 this month [in September], and something’s got to give.”

While Williams was not specific in Vogue about the exact timing of her farewell, on Instagram, she gave a hint that it might end very soon. The start of the US Open is less than three weeks away, a major which she has won six times. So, it would be very fitting if Williams ended her career in New York. She won the US Open for the first time in 1999 at age 17 against then-No. 1 Martina Hingis.

“One thing I’m not going to do is sugarcoat this,” Williams wrote. “I know that a lot of people are excited about and look forward to retiring, and I really wish I felt that way. Ashleigh Barty was number 1 in the world when she left the sport this March, and I believe she really felt ready to move on. Caroline Wozniacki, who is one of my best friends, felt a sense of relief when she retired in 2020.

“Praise to these people, but I’m going to be honest. There is no happiness in this topic for me. 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. …”

Williams trails only Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam singles titles and has been stuck on 23 since winning the Australia Open in 2017, when she was pregnant with her daughter. She owns 73 career titles overall – including seven at the Australian Open, three at Roland Garros, seven at Wimbledon and six at the US Open – and has earned more than $94.5 million in prize money. Along with Court, Helen Wills and Chris Evert, Williams has won major singles titles in her teens, 20s and 30s. Ten of her Grand Slam crowns have come after she turned 30.

In addition to her singles success, Williams has also won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles with Venus, two mixed doubles crowns with Max Mirnyi, and four Olympic gold medals, including one in singles and three in doubles with Venus.

“There comes a time in life when we have to decide to move in a different direction,” Williams wrote. “That time is always hard when you love something so much. My goodness do I enjoy tennis. But now, the countdown has begun. I have to focus on being a mom, my spiritual goals and finally discovering a different, but just [as] exciting Serena. I’m gonna relish these next few weeks.”

After Williams defeated Nuria Parrizas-Diaz of Spain, 6-3, 6-4, at the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers in Toronto on Monday, her first win since beating Danielle Collins in the third round of the 2021 French Open, she told reporters, “I guess there’s just a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know, I’m getting closer to the light. Lately that’s been it for me. I can’t wait to get to that light.”