The world first met Serena Williams as a 17-year-old with beads, great strength, precocious intelligence and poise when she stunned her sport by winning the first of 23 Grand Slam titles at the 1999 US Open.
And so began a game-changing journey, with a lot of help from her sister Venus and her savvy parents, that transcended tennis and turned Williams into a beacon of fashion, entertainment and business. .
On Tuesday, Williams set the stage for the end of the tennis leg of that journey at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the U.S. Open where so many championships, fights, punches and shouts of “Come on!” in front
In a first-person essay in the popular September issue of Vogue that was published online Tuesday, Williams said she planned to retire from the sport after playing 21 times in the US Open, which starts later this month. And as he has done for more than two decades, Williams made the announcement with his own unique twist, saying he “never liked the word retirement” and preferred to use the word “evolution” to describe it. His next steps.
“I’m moving on from tennis and moving on to other things that are important to me,” including working with his venture capital firm and raising his family, he said.
Williams did not specify when she might retire, but she hinted on Instagram that the US Open could be her last tournament, leaving the door slightly open for her to continue or return, as retired players often do. “The countdown is on,” he said, adding that “I’m going to enjoy these few weeks.”
Williams is playing at the US Open in Toronto this week and is scheduled to play in Cincinnati next week.
Asked Monday after her straight sets victory over Spain’s Nuria Parisas-Diaz what motivates her now, Williams replied, “The light at the end of the tunnel.”
“It’s been like that for me lately,” he added. “I can’t wait to get to that light.”
While some tennis players are skeptical that Williams will go far, stepping onto the stage at the US Open this year will mark the end of her storied career. Williams has won the singles title there six times, starting in 1999 when she beat her older sister Venus to claim the family’s first Grand Slam title 23 years ago, a number that matches her career Grand Slam tally. The tournament has also been the site of some of Williams’ lowest moments, including confrontations with umpires and tournament officials in the semifinals in 2009 and the final in 2018.
“It feels like the right exclamation point, the right ending,” said Pam Shriver, a former player and tennis commentator who was one of the great doubles champions of the 1980s. “It doesn’t matter the outcome.”
Williams’ tennis future has been in doubt since she was forced to withdraw minutes into her first round match at Wimbledon last year after breaking her femur.
The injury sidelined him for almost a year. In fact, Shriver and others thought that Williams would never officially retire, but would continue to exist as she was considered for months after she left Wimbledon.
However, this spring, Williams said he had a desire to play competitively again. In the Vogue story, she said that Tiger Woods convinced her to train hard for two weeks and see what happened. She didn’t immediately take his advice, but eventually started hitting and signed up for the grass court doubles competition before Wimbledon.
At Wimbledon, she played a silly but inconsistent three-hour first-round match, losing to France’s Harmon Tan, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (7). She showed the power and touch that once made her nearly unbeatable, but lacked the fitness and match toughness that comes from being a regular on the WTA Tour.
Williams wrote that she and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, were planning to have a second child, but she worried about having to choose between another child and her tennis career. He expressed envy that some male athletes, such as 45-year-old NFL quarterback Tom Brady, were able to continue competing while their wives had children.
“I really don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete,” she said. “I have to be two feet in or two feet out in tennis.”
Williams won her last Grand Slam title while pregnant at the 2017 Australian Open.
Williams has won nearly $100 million in prize money, but her tennis career has barely kept her from pursuing other interests. He often helped design her tennis outfits. He executive produced “King Richard,” an Oscar-winning film about his family that focused on how a father took two girls from Compton, Calif., to the top of the sport. In recent years, she has become a venture capitalist, creating Serena Ventures, which invests in early-stage ideas and companies, many in technology and run by women.
On the tennis court, Williams currently sits second on Australia’s Margaret Court in Grand Slam singles championships, a record she had many chances to beat and then surpassed in 2018 and 2019 when she lost four Grand Slam finals without winning a set. However, because many of Court’s victories predate the modern era of professional tennis, this blemish is unlikely to tarnish Williams’ legacy as the greatest female tennis player, one of the greatest players, and one of the sport’s greatest athletes.
“When Serena retires from tennis, she will leave as the greatest player in the sport,” said Billie Jean King, champion and pioneer of the sport. After a career that inspired a new generation of players and fans, he will forever be known as a champion who triumphed on the court and raised the sport’s global profile.
Beyond all the championships — Williams won 73 singles titles, 23 doubles, two mixed doubles and played on four Olympic teams, winning four gold medals — her influence on how the world perceives female athletes and inspiring the young black girls who now lead American women’s tennis can be his greatest legacy.
With a unique blend of power, strength, speed, touch and tennis intelligence that led to her dominance, Williams has distinguished the great male and female tennis players like no other woman.
Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, the great men’s tennis players of the 21st century – and the best ever to grace the men’s game – spoke of Williams as one of them.
At the US Open last year, as the pressure mounted on Djokovic to win a rare calendar-year Grand Slam, he said only Williams could understand what he was going through.
Williams came into the 2015 US Open having won the first of three Grand Slam singles titles of the year, but lost in the semifinals to unseeded Italian Roberta Vinci. Winning the title that year gave her her fifth consecutive Grand Slam singles title, as she had already won four consecutive Grand Slam titles for the second time, now known as the “Serena Slam”.
None of this surprised Rick Mackie, the famed pro coach who three decades ago graded Serena and Venus Williams playing at Compton’s dilapidated park, when black girls, especially poor ones, rarely pursued tennis. Mac was not impressed at first, but when the girls started playing points, everything changed.
“There was anger in those two little kids as soon as we kept the score,” Mackey said in an interview Tuesday. “They were running so fast, they almost fell. I took a big chance because of what I thought I saw inside and I haven’t seen it since.”
Coco Goff, a rising 18-year-old who is the latest black American player to shoulder the burden of delivering “the next Serena,” Williams said was “the reason I play tennis” after her win in Toronto on Tuesday.
“I saw someone like me dominating the game,” said Goff, ranked 11th in the world, “and it made me believe I could dominate.”