Serena Williams announced on Tuesday her intention to bid farewell to tennis and evolve beyond the sport, suggesting that she would close out her extraordinary playing career on one of the biggest stages, at the U.S. Open. This comes after an injury plagued her during 2021 and 2022, resulting in her being ranked 403 in the world, as of August 10.
“I have never liked the word retirement,” Williams told Vogue in the announcement. “Maybe the best way to describe what I’m up to is evolution.”
Since becoming a professional tennis player in 1995 at age 14, her career has been nothing short of incredible. From winning her first Grand Slam at the 1999 U.S. Open at only 20 years old, to winning her 23rd at the 2017 edition of the Australian Open while in the early stages of pregnancy, many have called Williams one of the greatest athletes of all time. In this 18-year span, Williams won six Australian Open titles, three French Open titles, seven Wimbledon titles, and six U.S. Open titles. She has also won the World Tennis Association Finals five times.
The term “Serena Slam” was coined when Williams held all four major titles at the same time. She achieved this in the years 2002 to 2003 and again in 2014 to 2015. Only one player has more Grand Slam titles than Williams—Margaret Court won 24 from 1960 to 1973, and 13 of those came before the beginning of the Open Era of 1968, which allowed professional tennis players to play in the Grand Slam.
Williams has the most Grand Slam wins of the Open Era in both men and women’s tennis, with Rafael Nadal and Steffi Graff tied at 22 Grand Slam titles and Novak Djokovic at 21. Her success was not limited to Grand Slams however, as she currently holds 73 singles titles, the fifth overall highest. She has a career record of 855 wins and 153 losses —boasting an 84.8% win record. Williams remains the WTA’s career prize money leader with an astounding $94 million.
Not only did she have a stellar singles career in the WTA, but Williams also excelled in playing doubles alongside her older sister, Venus Williams. Together, the Williams sisters won 14 Grand Slams, the first coming at the 1999 French Open and the last at Wimbledon 2016. The duo brought home Olympic gold in the doubles at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Beijing 2008 Olympics, and London 2012 Olympics, with Serena Williams also winning the singles gold medal in London. This cemented Serena Williams in history as one of the very few athletes to win the “Golden Slam” meaning winning all four Grand Slams and the Olympics, a feat she managed to complete in both singles and doubles.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion shared her struggles with having to choose between tennis and starting a family, a sacrifice that female athletes are often faced with. Three months after winning the 2017 Australian Open, Williams announced that she was 20 weeks pregnant, and on September 1, 2017, Williams gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. Williams lost her first match back after having a child in December 2017 against Jelena Ostapenko, the reigning French Open champion. This loss came after a delayed return to training as she was bedridden for 6 weeks after giving birth due to suffering from two pulmonary embolisms—one during labor and one after her caesarean-section. Her first Grand Slam appearance as a mother came at the 2018 French Open, coming off of two early exits in Indian Wells and Miami.
Williams’s idea of evolving away from tennis stands true, and it’s clear she yearns to be present in her daughter’s life to the fullest extent.
“The fact is that nothing is a sacrifice for me when it comes to Olympia,” Williams said in the Vogue article.
Later in 2018, Williams made it to the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, losing to Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka respectively.
After returning from maternity leave, Williams reached the final of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open consecutively in 2018 and 2019, while also reaching the semifinals in the U.S. Open in 2020 and Australian Open in 2021. Her first title after giving birth to Olympia came in 2020 when she defeated fellow American Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-4 at the Auckland Open.
With a career spanning over four decades, Williams spoke in her Vogue column how the subject of moving on from tennis is not a happy one, despite most people looking forward to retiring and moving on. The dilemma she faces is not wanting to close the tennis chapter of her life, while wanting and eagerly awaiting what is next for her in life. Although her playing career looks to be coming to an end after the 2022 U.S. Open beginning on August 29, the lasting impact she has had on the sport and the future generations of players will never be forgotten.
“I don’t know how I’m going to be able to look at this magazine when it comes out, 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,” Williams said.
It goes without saying that Williams has had a remarkable impact on the sport, becoming an inspiration for many young tennis players, in particular Black girls who saw someone they could look up to and aspire to be like. No. 11-ranked women’s tennis player and upcoming American star, Coco Gauff, vocalised to the press just how integral Williams was on her individual journey as a Black player.
“I grew up watching her,” Gauff said. “That’s the reason why I play tennis and tennis being a predominantly white sport, it definitely helped a lot because I saw somebody who looked like me dominating the game and it made me believe I could dominate too.”
This representation is extremely significant for athletes of color in a sport dominated by wealthy white people. It has paved the way for future generations who can now see someone like them being incredibly successful and feel encouraged to pick up tennis.
“I’d like to think that thanks to me, women athletes can be themselves, they can play with aggression and pump their fists.” Williams said in the Vogue column. “They can wear what they want and say what they want and kick butt and be proud of it all.”
Undoubtedly, her impact goes above and beyond tennis, transcending it completely. That is part of the legacy that Williams will leave behind.
It is a privilege to have witnessed even parts of Williams’s magnificent career, dominating on the court and being a pioneer for Black women and mothers in sport. Whatever comes next for one of the greatest, most influential athletes of all time, there is no doubt that the world will be watching.