Such is her standing in the worlds of sport and culture, it was no surprise that Serena Williams announced her imminent retirement from tennis by writing an intimate first-person essay in Vogue. In its September issue, the fashion magazine said the 40-year-old would bid farewell to tennis “on her own terms – and in her own words”.
In fact retirement is not a term that she’s ever liked, “it doesn’t feel like a modern word to me”, she wrote. “I’ve been thinking of this as a transition. 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.”
A few years ago Williams “quietly started” Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, she started a family. “I want to grow that family.”
‘I should have had 30-plus slams’
It’s “almost the end of an era”, said Amy Lofthouse on BBC Sport. As “one of the greatest tennis players of all time” and a “sporting icon”, it will be “difficult to imagine tennis without the American legend”, who has won “all there is to win” during her 27-year career.
A winner of 23 grand slam singles titles in the open era, Williams is just one behind the all-time record held by Australian Margaret Court. In her essay she suggested that the 2022 US Open, which starts on 29 August, will be her farewell event. It was in New York, as a “braided 17-year-old phenomenon”, where she lifted the family’s “first major title” in 1999, said Bryan Armen Graham in The Guardian. Her older sister Venus, a seven-time grand slam champion, won the US Open major a year later and in 2001.
Within reach of Court’s 24 slams, Williams would “be lying” if she said she didn’t want that record. “Obviously I do,” she wrote. “But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her. The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus grand slams.”
With 23 slams and 73 career titles, Williams has “set the marker that matters”, said Tumaini Carayol in The Guardian. “No asterisks needed”, her tennis legacy “goes far beyond statistics”.
‘It hurts like a 120mph serve to the stomach’
Williams’ retirement will be “a crushing loss” for tennis, said Johnny Oleksinski in the New York Post. “Without a doubt”, she is a “once-in-a-generation athlete” on the “same godlike level” as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, LeBron James or Tom Brady. “The sports world will be a lot less ferocious or fascinating without her.” We all knew this sad day was coming, but it “still hurts like a 120-miles-per-hour serve to the stomach”.
Regarded by many as the women’s tennis “goat” – the greatest of all time – from a “purely sporting point of view”, Williams will be remembered as an athlete who possessed “the purest serve” and a “never-fading desire to win”, said Lofthouse on the BBC. She will also be remembered for “speaking out against racism, pushing for gender parity and equal prize money, and about her experiences of the healthcare system as a black woman”.
It has been years since Serena was “simply an athlete”, said Steve Tignor on Tennis.com. “She’s a symbol – of black excellence, modern motherhood, female success without compromise, survival”. Along with Beyoncé and Oprah, she’s also one of a group of African-American women who are at “the centre of American culture, not just sporting culture”.
‘The Serena effect’
Following her announcement, the US Open has taken on “a whole new meaning” this year, said Prakash Amritraj on Tennis.com. And it looks like fans are going to turn out in great numbers to bid farewell to the tennis icon.
Tournament officials have confirmed that there has been “unprecedented” demand for tickets for this year’s slam in New York. “You talk about the Serena effect, it’s like a tsunami,” USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier told the New York Post.
Widmaier also said it is still to be determined how the US Open will honour Williams during the tournament. Previous “notable farewells” at Flushing have included American stars Andre Agassi in 2006 and Andy Roddick in 2012.
Williams said she’s “going to try” and win the New York slam, but she is not looking for some “ceremonial, final” on-court moment. “I’m terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst,” she said to her fans. “But please know that I am more grateful for you than I can ever express in words. You have carried me to so many wins and so many trophies. I’m going to miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis. And I’m going to miss you.”