Serena Williams Says Goodbye to Tennis on Her Own Terms & In Her Own Words

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My five-year-old daughter

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Olympia, and I were on our way this morning to acquire her a new passport in preparation for a vacation to Europe. We’re in my car, and she’s holding my phone, which she’s using to play an interactive educational programme she enjoys. This robot voice inquires, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She has no idea I’m listening in, but I can hear the response she murmurs into the phone. “I want to be a big sister,” she adds.                    (Serena Williams Says Goodbye)

Olympia says it a lot, even when she knows I’m paying attention. She prays to Jehovah for a baby sister before going to bed. (She refuses to have anything to do with a male!) I’m the youngest of five sisters, and my sisters are my idols, so this has felt like a moment to pay close attention to.

never wanted to have to pick between tennis and having family. 
It’s not fair, in my opinion. 
wouldn’t be writing this if were male because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife did the actual effort of growing our family. 
If had the chance, maybe I’d be more like Tom Brady. 
Don’t get me wrong: like being woman, and relished every moment of Olympia’s pregnancy. 
was one of those obnoxious ladies who loved being pregnant and worked until the day had to report to the hospital—even though things were lot more complex on the other side. 
And almost did the unthinkable:

Many people are unaware that when I won the Australian Open in 2017

I was two months pregnant. But I’m 41 this month, and something has to give. I’ve been hesitant to confess that need to stop playing tennis. 

But I’ve been hesitant to tell myself or anybody else that I need to stop playing tennis. Alexis, my husband, and I have barely discussed it; it’s almost a forbidden subject. I can’t even have this discussion with my parents. It’s almost as if it’s not real until you say it aloud. When it comes up, I feel a knot in my throat and begin to cry. My therapist is the only person I’ve ever gone there with! One thing I will not do is sugarcoat this. I know that many people are happy about and looking forward to retirement, and I wish I felt the same way. Ashleigh Barty was the world’s best when she quit the sport in March, believe she was ready to move on. 

Caroline Wozniacki, one of my closest friends, was relieved when she announced her retirement in 2020.

I want to give these folks praise, but I’ll also be honest. This subject does not provide me joy. I realise it’s unusual for me to say this, but I’m in a lot of pain. It’s the most difficult thing I can fathom. It disgusts me. I dislike having to stand at this fork in the road. Often I tell myself that I wish things were easier for me, but they aren’t. Can’t wait for it to be completed, but I’m equally excited about what’s ahead. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to look at this magazine knowing that it marks the conclusion of a tale that began in Compton, California, with a tiny Black girl who simply wanted to play tennis. This sport has provided me with so much. I enjoy winning. Adore fighting. Enjoy entertaining others. Although I doubt all players view it that way, I adore the performance part of it—being able to amuse spectators every week. Some of the happiest moments of my life have been spent waiting in that Melbourne corridor and entering Rod Laver Arena while wearing headphones to block out background noise and maintain focus but yet experiencing the enthusiasm of the audience. Nighttime games at Flushing Meadows’ Arthur Ashe Stadium. hitting the set point with an ace.

Tennis has been a constant in my life up until now. I believe I initially took up a racket even earlier than my father claims—when I was just three years old. Venus is seen carrying me in a stroller on a tennis court in a photo, and I couldn’t have been older than 18 months at the time. I’ve never been someone to keep their emotions in check, unlike Venus, who has always been stern and elegant. When I was learning how to write my alphabet in kindergarten, I recall making mistakes and sobbing all night. I was furious over it. My mother allowed me to remain up all night while my sisters slept because I would repeatedly delete and replace that A. I’ve always been like that. I aspire to greatness. I aspire to perfection. Even though I am aware that perfection is impossible, I was determined to keep trying until I achieved my goal.

Tennis has been a constant in my life up until now. I believe I initially took up a racket even earlier than my father claims—when I was just three years old. Venus is seen carrying me in a stroller on a tennis court in a photo, and I couldn’t have been older than 18 months at the time. I’ve never been someone to keep their emotions in check, unlike Venus, who has always been stern and elegant. When I was learning how to write my alphabet in kindergarten, I recall making mistakes and sobbing all night. I was furious over it. My mother allowed me to remain up all night while my sisters slept because I would repeatedly delete and replace that A. I’ve always been like that. I aspire to greatness. I aspire to perfection. Even though I am aware that perfection is impossible, I was determined to keep trying until I achieved my goal.

Expecting the best from myself and proving people wrong seems to me to be the essence of what it is to be Serena. There were so many games I won because someone counted me out or something enraged me. That irritated me. I’ve made a profession out of using my anger and negativity to create something positive. Someone once told me that when my sister Venus stated you couldn’t do something, it was because they themselves couldn’t. However, I did it. You too can do it.
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Photographed by Annie Leibovitz in Vogue, April 2003.

If you saw King Richard, you would be aware that I was not a very good tennis player when I was younger. I was quite disappointed when I didn’t have the same early opportunities as Venus enjoyed, but it was for the best. It motivated me to put in more effort and honed my fighting skills. Venus and I would travel to tournaments as each other’s hitting partners, and if a spot opened up, I would participate. I observed her as I followed her throughout the globe. I knew why she lost, so I took precautions to avoid doing the same to myself. Because I learnt the lessons from Venus’s defeats rather than the hard way, from my own, I was able to start moving up the ranks so quickly. It seemed like I was taking part in her bouts as well. I’m good at imitating. When I was younger, I attempted to emulate Pete Sampras. I initially fell in love with Monica Seles, then I looked into her. I looked and I listened before I attacked. But if Venus hadn’t thrown her shadow over me, I wouldn’t be who I am now. When someone made the remark that I was just the little sister, I felt really upset.

To win the U.S. Open was my initial motivation for playing tennis. Open. Beyond that, I didn’t think. I then just continued succeeding. I clearly recall the moment I surpassed Martina Hingis’ grand slam total. Then came Seles’. Then I tied Billie Jean King, who has served as a major source of inspiration for me by establishing female equality in all sports. The Chris Evert-Martina Navratilova mountain had to then be scaled. Because I haven’t surpassed Margaret Court’s record of 24 grand slam victories, which she attained prior to the “open period” that started in 1968, some people claim that I am not the GOAT. If I claimed I didn’t want that record, I’d be lying. Of course I do. However, I don’t actually think about her on a daily basis. Yes, I do consider that record when I’m in a grand slam final. Perhaps I gave it too much consideration, which didn’t help. In my opinion, I ought to have hit more than 30 grand slams. I had my opportunities after having baby and returning. Had a C-section, a second pulmonary embolism, and then competed in a grand slam. Entertained myself while nursing. I used music to combat postpartum depression. But I didn’t make it. Should, would, and perhaps I didn’t seem as I could or ought to have. But it’s okay since I turned up 23 times. Actually, it’s remarkable. But now days, if I have to pick between raising my family and improving my tennis career, I choose with the latter.

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Photographed by Annie Leibovitz in Vogue, April 2015.

I never gave having children a thought earlier in my work. There have been occasions when I have questioned whether I should ever have children in this troubled world. I never felt secure or at ease around infants or young children, and I assumed that if I ever had a kid, I would have somebody taking care of it round-the-clock. I won’t sugarcoat it: I have a lot of support. But I’m also a very involved mother. You will hear from my spouse that I am too involved. Olympia has only been away from me for one whole day in the past five years. I got to pick her up from school four or five days a week this past year while I was healing from a hamstring injury, and I always looked forward to watching her face light up when she stepped out of the building and saw me waiting there for her. The truth is that when it comes to Olympia, nothing is a sacrifice for me. Just everything makes sense. I wish to impart upon her knowledge of God, how to read, how to tie her shoes, and the origins of children. exactly like my mother taught me. Every month is different as she gets bigger. We both like watching baking-related television together lately. Play-Doh baking is what we do now, and it’s so much fun. She adores the game The Floor Is Lava, in which you must take all reasonable precautions to keep from contacting the ground. My step-up boxes and weight equipment are always set up at my gym like an obstacle course for the game. I enjoy everything she loves.

Tennis, in contrast, has, in my opinion, always felt like a sacrifice—albeit one I loved making. When you’re younger, you see youngsters having a good time, and you want to do that as well, but you know you have to be on the court, hoping that one day it will all be worthwhile. My parents pushed me very hard. These days, a lot of parents advise their children to “do anything they want! That didn’t get me where I am, though. Growing up, I didn’t act out. I put in a lot of effort and abided by the regulations. Though not in tennis, I do want to encourage Olympia in anything she finds interesting. But I’m not going to push myself too far. I’m still attempting to strike that balance.

The balance in my personal life has been gradually changing in Serena Ventures’ favour. I often describe myself as a sponge because I squeeze myself dry before bed so that the next day I may absorb as much fresh knowledge as possible. I get so eager every morning to get downstairs to my office, hop on Zooms, and begin analysing the decks of businesses we’re thinking about investing in. Six individuals make up our tiny but expanding company, which is spread out between Florida, where I primarily reside, Texas, and California. Since I first started investing nine years ago, I have developed a great passion for early stage investment, whether it is pre-seed financing, where you invest in a concept alone, or seed, where the idea has already been developed into a product. One of the earliest checks for MasterClass was one I wrote. Along with Tonal, Impossible Foods, Noom, and Esusu, to name a few, it is one of 16 unicorns—companies valued at more than $1 billion—that Serena Ventures has backed. We received $111 million in outside funding this year from family offices, private investors, and banks. Due to the nature of who we are, 78% of our portfolio consists of businesses founded by women and people of colour. However, because my spouse is white, it’s vital to me to be accepting of all people. Up until recently, Serena Ventures has only employed women. Recently, we made a diversity hire and hired our first man!

FEELING GRAND “I showed up 23 times and thats fine. Actually its extraordinary.” Wales Bonner dress. Lagos chain...

Feeling regal
It’s okay that I showed up 23 times. Actually, it’s remarkable.” Wales Bonner attire chain necklace from Lagos. Pendant made by Sara Beltran, Dezso.

I once attended a JPMorgan Chase-sponsored conference where I heard Jamie Dimon and Caryn Seidman-Becker, the CEO of the security firm Clear, speak. Less than 2% of all VC funding, according to Caryn, went to women. I assumed she sounded off-key. There is no possibility that 98 percent of the cash will go to males, I reasoned. When I spoke to her later, she verified it. I kind of realised right then and then that someone with my appearance had to start making the significant contributions. Sometimes opposites attract. More individuals who like me need to be in the situation where they are giving money back to themselves in order for us to alter the fact that men are writing those large cheques to one another. I’m extremely appreciative to the ladies who have mentored me, including Caryn and Sheryl Sandberg. It’s crucial to surround yourself with people who encourage you to think and act more ambitiously and who believe in you.

I’d like to think that because of me, female athletes are free to be who they are. They are capable of aggressive play and fist pumping. They are free to do as they choose, including wearing whatever they want and speaking their minds.

Alexis and I have been trying to conceive for the past year, and lately we received some information from my doctor that gave me peace of mind and made me feel like we can expand our family whenever we’re ready. As an athlete, I most definitely do not want to get pregnant again. Tennis requires me to be either two feet in or two feet out.

For the first time in seven months, I had the urge to return to the court this spring. In a conversation with my buddy Tiger Woods, I asked him for guidance on my tennis career. He’s Tiger, and he was insistent that I be a beast the same way he is! I answered, “I don’t know what to do: I believe I’m over it, but maybe I’m not over it.” What if you simply gave it two weeks, he asked Serena? You are not required to make any commitments. I responded, “Best right, I think I can do that. You just go out on the court every day for two weeks and give it your all and see what happens.” And I didn’t do it. But I gave it a go a month later. And picking up a racket once more felt amazing. And I was alright. I did pretty well. I debated playing at Wimbledon and in the United States. After that, start. As I’ve already stated, I’ve had difficulty with the entire concept of evolution.

I don’t like to consider my legacy very much. I’m frequently questioned about it, but I never know how to respond. But I’d like to think that because of the possibilities I’ve been given, female athletes feel comfortable being themselves on the field. They are capable of aggressive play and fist pumping. May be they’re both powerful and attractive. They are free to act, speak, and dress whichever they like, and they may be proud of it all. In my career, I’ve done a lot of things wrong. I welcome the learning opportunities that come from mistakes. Even though I’ve received a lot of criticism and am far from flawless, I like to assume that by going through certain hardships as a professional tennis player, the following generation will have it easier. I hope that as time goes on, people start to see me as a symbol of something more than tennis. Billie Jean is someone I respect because she went beyond her sport. Serena is this, she is that, she was a fantastic tennis player, and she won those grand slams, is how I would like it to read.

I regret not having been prepared to win Wimbledon this year. Furthermore, I’m not sure if I’ll be prepared to win New York. But I’ll make an effort. And the warm-up competitions will be enjoyable. I’m aware that some fans fantasise that I may have tied Margaret on that day in London, then possibly broken her record in New York, and finally said, “See ya! I realise that. A good daydream, indeed. However, I’m not searching for a solemn, on-court moment. I’m the worst person in the world at saying goodbye. But please understand that there are no words to adequately describe how grateful I am for you. You have helped me achieve so many victories and so many awards. That tennis-playing version of myself will be missed. And you will be missed by me.

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