Today marks the end of an era for tennis, as Serena Williams, one of the sport’s biggest, most respected names, has announced it is time for her to retire.
In an emotional essay published on Vogue, Williams wrote candidly about the point she is at in her life—and the balancing act she plays every day, trying to be both the world-renowned star athlete she is on the tennis court and the mom and wife her family needs her to be.
“I’ve been reluctant to admit that I have to move on from playing tennis. It’s like a taboo topic. It comes up, and I start to cry. I think the only person I’ve really gone there with is my therapist,” Williams wrote.
The athlete has spent more than two decades at the top of the tennis world, winning her first major singles title at the 1999 US Open, and going on to win four Olympic gold medals and 23 Grand Slam singles titles—the most by any player in the Open Era, and the second-most of all time (behind Margaret Court’s 24)—among many other awards.
Over the years, she has fought for equal pay and diversity in the sport, helping shape tennis into what it is today, and creating more opportunities for women and people of color.
“I have never liked the word retirement. 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,” she wrote. “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 I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, I started a family. I want to grow that family.”
Williams married Reddit cofounder Alexis Kerry Ohanian in 2017, and the same year the two welcomed daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. In her essay, the tennis pro said her daughter constantly prays for a little sister, and now that she’s turning 41, that part of her life is the one she wants to focus on—along with her work with Nike and her venture capital firm, Serena Ventures.
While retirement is a destination or a welcome conclusion for many athletes and professionals, Williams admitted that is not the case for her.
“There is no happiness in this topic for me. 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,” she wrote. “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.”
She noted that if she were a man, she might not have to choose between a career that has given her so much and her family—but that’s not the case.
“The fact is that nothing is a sacrifice for me when it comes to Olympia. It all just makes sense,” she added. “I think tennis, by comparison, has always felt like a sacrifice—though it’s one I enjoyed making.”
Williams ended her essay by saying she’s still going to compete at the US Open in New York City this month—and she’s going to try to win.
“But I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment,” she wrote. “I’m terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst. 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.”