Serena Williams will always be connected to the sport of tennis. It’s part of her DNA. She is arguably the greatest player, man or woman, to ever swing a racket. Even more than her brilliance on the court, Williams has been one of the world’s instrumental figures over the past four decades since her professional debut in October 1995, redefining sports, popular culture and the limitations placed on women in dominant white patriarchal societies.
Now, a little under seven weeks away from turning 41 on September 26, she is ready for the next phase of her life. In an as-told-to interview in Vogue Magazine published on Tuesday, Williams introspectively revealed she will be retiring from competitive tennis soon after the upcoming US Open, a tournament in which she has captured six singles titles, the last in 2014.
The Open will be held from Aug. 29 through Sept. 11 at the sparkling USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens. Given Williams’ opening round loss at Wimbledon in late June, then her first singles match in 364 days, it stands to reason she won’t make a deep run at the Open. Williams’ last Grand Slam singles victory, No. 23, second all-time to Margaret Court, came at Wimbledon six years ago.
In the Vogue piece, told to writer Rob Haskell with photos featuring herself and four-year-old daughter, Williams weighs the choice between parenthood and her career, one that is unequally imposed on women much more than men.
“This morning, my daughter, Olympia, who turns five this month, and I were on our way to get her a new passport before a trip to Europe. We’re in my car, and she’s holding my phone, using an interactive educational app she likes,” said Williams. “This robot voice asks her a question: What do you want to be when you grow up? She doesn’t know I’m listening, but I can hear the answer she whispers into the phone. She says, ‘I want to be a big sister.’”
Williams continues, “Olympia says this a lot, even when she knows I’m listening. Sometimes before bed, she prays to Jehovah to bring her a baby sister. (She doesn’t want anything to do with a boy!) I’m the youngest of five sisters myself, and my sisters are my heroes, so this has felt like a moment I need to listen very carefully to.
“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family,” she expounded. “I don’t think it’s fair. 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…
“I loved every second of being pregnant with Olympia. I was one of those annoying women who adored being pregnant and was working until the day I had to report to the hospital—although things got super complicated on the other side. And I almost did do the impossible: A lot of people don’t realize that I was two months pregnant when I won the Australian Open in 2017. But I’m turning 41 this month, and something’s got to give.”
What gives is perhaps the most incredible athletic career in sports history. Rising from the tough environment of Compton, California to earning more prize money—$94.59 million—than any women’s tennis player in history. As well as hundreds of millions more in endorsements and business ventures. And oh, second on that prize list at $42.28 million is big sister Venus.
Simply put, she is the remarkable Serena Williams.