Serena Williams announced her retirement from tennis on Tuesday in an emotional essay reflecting on her unparalleled achievements in a sport she has dominated for nearly three decades.
Writing in a cover story for the September issue of Vogue, Williams said she would finally put down the racket to focus on other passions including her family and her business empire.
“I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me,” she wrote. “A few years ago I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, I started a family. I want to grow that family.” Williams is still set to compete in the U.S. Open, which begins in New York City later this month.
Williams, 40, whose powerful playing style saw her obliterate opponents on her way to a mind-boggling 23 Grand Slam singles titles, confessed that she did not want to have to choose between tennis and her family.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” she wrote. “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.”
Williams added that she’d be lying if she said she didn’t want to surpass Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles—set before the modern “open era” of the sport—but accepted that her own achievements were “extraordinary.”
“[I]f I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter,” she wrote.
In Vogue’s September issue, @serenawilliams prepares to say farewell to tennis on her own terms and in her own words. “It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine,” she says. “I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next” https://t.co/6Zr0UXVTH1 pic.twitter.com/YtGtcc18a9
— Vogue Magazine (@voguemagazine) August 9, 2022
Williams’ announcement comes after she made a return to singles tennis at Wimbledon in June after a long period being sidelined due to injury. The hiatus led some to speculate that Williams’ retirement could be on the cards; her defeat in the first round of the U.K. tournament only bolstered the rumors.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t ready to win Wimbledon this year,” Williams wrote in the Vogue essay. “And I don’t know if I will be ready to win New York. But I’m going to try.”
She also said that encouragement from her friend Tiger Woods had helped her return to competing in tennis professionally this year.
Williams also paid tribute to her sister, Venus Williams, for inspiring her to become the world-beating athlete that she eventually became. “[I]f I hadn’t been in Venus’s shadow,” Williams wrote, “I would never be who I am. When someone said I was just the little sister, that’s when I got really fired up.”
Williams went on to reveal that she and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, have been trying for a second child. Their daughter, Olympia, was born in 2017. “I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete,” Williams wrote. “I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.” Williams says her focus has also steadily shifted towards her venture capital company, which has primarily funded companies created by women and people of color.
Despite winning just about every accolade her sport has to give—along with nearly $100 million in prize money—Williams said the decision to retire is still painful to consider all the same. “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to look at this magazine when it comes out,” she wrote. “Knowing that this is it, the end of a story that started in Compton, California, with a little Black girl who just wanted to play tennis.”