Serena Williams is likely to end her legendary tennis career at the U.S. Open.
In a personal essay in Vogue headlined “Serena’s Farewell….I’m terrible at goodbyes,” the 23-time Grand Slam champion announced that it was time for her to move “in a different direction.”
"I have never liked the word retirement," Williams, 40, said in the as-told-to essay. "Maybe the best word to describe what I'm up to is evolution. I'm here to tell you that I'm evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me."
The face of her sport for more than two decades, Williams could end her career in Queens, the same place where she won her first Grand Slam title when she was just 17. Her announcement Tuesday morning elicited an outpouring of emotion from the tennis community.
"When Serena steps away from tennis, she will leave as the sport's greatest player,” tennis icon Billie Jean King told Reuters. “After a career that has inspired a new generation of players and fans, she will forever be known as a champion who won on the court and raised the global profile of the sport off of it."
Pam Shriver told ESPN that it’s hard to overstate the impact Williams has had on the sport.
“She has impacted tennis on the court, off the court,” Shriver said. “She’s taken tennis off the sports pages and into pop culture. She bridges people of all generations, diversity of background. She's become a great spokesperson, a philanthropist and she's matured before our eyes.”
Williams’ 23 Grand Slams are just one short of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24. Given that 11 of Court’s 24 titles came at the Australian Open at a time when many top players were not competing there, Williams’ feat is considered more impressive.
Williams consistently played against the best players of her generation, outlasting them all. A dozen of her Grand Slam finals came against 12 different players who were ranked No. 1 at one time or another.
Williams’ contributions aren’t limited to wins and losses as throughout her career she broke new ground for both people of color and women.
Williams’ success in what had been seen as a country club sport inspired a whole generation of young tennis players of color, including Naomi Osaka who beat her in the 2018 U.S. Open Final.
Her powerful, muscled physique changed the public perception of what a female athlete should look like, and opened up a much-needed discussion of body-shaming in women’s sports.
Williams’ business acumen has kept her among the top paid athletes in the world even as her prize money declined over the past several years. And now, her very public discussion of balancing the needs of her family with her own career goals is sure to launch new discussions on the sacrifices women are forced to make in their careers.
Williams said in the essay that she and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, we’re planning to have another child and indicted that was a major reason for her decision.
“I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete,” she said. “I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.”
Williams has not won a Grand Slam title since the 2017 Australian Open when she beat her sister Venus in the final while she was two months pregnant with her daughter Olympia. Since then, she has made it to the finals of four Grand Slams with her last appearance being a loss to Bianca Andreescu in the 2019 U.S. Open.
Williams was sidelined for nearly a year after tearing her hamstring in a first-round match at Wimbledon in 2021. She returned to Wimbledon this year but lost in the first round.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to win Wimbledon this year. And I don’t know if I will be ready to win New York. But I’m going to try,” she said. “And the lead-up tournaments will be fun. I know there’s a fan fantasy that I might have tied Margaret that day in London, then maybe beat her record in New York, and then at the trophy ceremony say, “See ya!” I get that. It’s a good fantasy.
“But I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment. I’m terrible at goodbyes.”
Serena Williams' numbers:
Career prize money
Grand Slam titles
Wimbledon and Australian Open titles
U.S. Open titles
Olympic gold medals
French Open titles