Serena Williams will retire from tennis some time after the U.S. Open that starts in three weeks.
“I have never liked the word retirement,” she wrote in a Vogue article. “It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. 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.
“There comes a time in life when we have to decide to move in a different direction. That time is always hard when you love something so much. My goodness do I enjoy tennis. But now, the countdown has begun. I have to focus on being a mom, my spiritual goals and finally discovering a different, but just exciting Serena. I’m gonna relish these next few weeks.”
Williams, 40, did not write specifically in the article that the U.S. Open will be her last tournament, but all signs point to it at least being her last major.
Williams owns 23 Grand Slam singles titles, one shy of Margaret Court‘s record. Court, the 1960s and ’70s Australian star, won 11 Australian Opens when many of the world’s top players did not play the event. Most of her titles came before all of the world’s best players gathered for each of the four majors.
“There are people who say I’m not the GOAT because I didn’t pass Margaret Court’s record of 24 grand slam titles, which she achieved before the ‘open era’ that began in 1968,” Williams wrote. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her.”
Williams went nearly a year between tournament play after withdrawing from her 2021 Wimbledon first-round match with a right hamstring tear. Her first singles tournament back was this year’s Wimbledon, where she lost in the first round to 115th-ranked Frenchwoman Harmony Tan.
“There’s a fan fantasy that I might have tied Margaret that day in London [at Wimbledon this year], then maybe beat her record in New York, and then at the trophy ceremony say, ‘See ya!'” Williams wrote. “I get that. It’s a good fantasy. But I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment.”
Williams finished runner-up at four majors since returning from 2017 life-threatening childbirth — at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2018 and 2019. Her last major title came while eight weeks pregnant at the 2017 Australian Open.
“In the last year, [husband] Alexis [Ohanian] and I have been trying to have another child, and we recently got some information from my doctor that put my mind at ease and made me feel that whenever we’re ready, we can add to our family,” she wrote. “I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete. I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.
“I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. 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.
“But these days, if I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter.”
Williams won her first-round match in a U.S. Open lead-up tournament in Toronto on Monday. She is expected to play her next match Wednesday. Players at the tournament commented on the news, including 18-year-old Coco Gauff.
“Not really shocking but almost shocking news because she’s just been playing forever, my whole life,” said Gauff, who was born four and a half years after Williams’ first major singles title. “The legacy that she’s left through her tennis career is something that I don’t think any other player can probably touch.
“I grew up watching her. I mean, that’s the reason why I play tennis. 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 that I could dominate, too.”
Williams said she is “getting there” mentally and feeling much better in practice physically.
“It’s just getting that to the court,” she said in Toronto on Monday. “I’m the kind of person it just takes one or two things and then it clicks, so I’m just waiting for that to click.”
Her first major singles title came at the U.S. Open in 1999 at age 17. The next year, she won the first of three Olympic doubles titles with older sister Venus. She also won singles gold at the 2012 London Games.
“There is no happiness in this topic for me,” she wrote of retirement. “I know it’s not the usual thing to say, but I feel a great deal of pain. It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine. I hate it. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I keep saying to myself, I wish it could be easy for me, but it’s not. I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next.”
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nbcolympictalk