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Serena Williams hints at upcoming retirement: ‘The countdown has begun’

Serena Williams, of the United States, returns the ball during a match with Nuria Parrizas-Diaz, of Spain, during the National Bank Open tennis tournament in Toronto, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press via AP)

Serena Williams, whose 23 Grand Slam singles tennis titles cement her status as one of the greatest to play any professional sport, hinted in an interview with Vogue magazine that her glorious career will soon come to an end as she evolves “toward other things that are important to me.” She also said on Instagram that “the countdown has begun.”

Williams’s business interests are among those “things,” as is expansion of the family she and husband Alexis Ohanian started in 2017 when their daughter, Olympia, was born.

“Believe me, 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,” Williams told Rob Haskell for Vogue. “Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity. Don’t get me wrong: I love being a woman, and I loved every second of being pregnant with Olympia.

Serena Williams announced that she will be “evolving away from tennis” in a Vogue cover story that published on Aug. 9. (Video: Reuters)

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“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 [in September], and something’s got to give.”

Williams, who trails only Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, was vague in Vogue about the exact timing of her farewell. On Instagram, she hinted that it might end soon, with the U.S. Open, which she has won six times, looming at the end of the month.

“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,” she wrote. “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 [as] exciting Serena. I’m gonna relish these next few weeks.”

Williams admitted she has “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.

“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 was a bit more open about her plans Monday after beating Nuria Parrizas-Diaz, 6-3, 6-4, at the National Bank Open, her first win since the 2021 French Open. “I guess there’s just a light at the end of the tunnel,” she told reporters in Toronto. “I don’t know; I’m getting closer to the light. Lately that’s been it for me. I can’t wait to get to that light.”

The light, for her, represents “freedom” from one of the great sports careers, one that began when she and her sister Venus were coached by their father, Richard, on the courts of Compton, Calif. “I love playing, though, so it’s amazing, but I can’t do this forever,” she added. “So sometimes you just want to try your best to enjoy the moments and do the best that you can.”

Her farewell, she seemed to indicate to Vogue, would be a low-key affair.

“I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment,” she said. “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.”