Serena Williams, 23-time Grand Slam champion, is officially bidding farewell to tennis.
The 40-year-old revealed her decision in her own words in Vogue’s September issue cover story, explaining that ultimately she wants to have more children, and doing so is not compatible with continuing her storied career. “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,” she tells Rob Haskell in the as-told-to interview. “Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family.”
Williams and her husband, Reddit cofounder and tech investor Alexis Ohanian, welcomed daughter Olympia in 2017. Williams has previously explained that following her emergency C-section delivery, she suffered from complications including a pulmonary embolism and hemorrhaging at the C-section site.
“I’ve been reluctant to admit that I have to move on from playing tennis,” she continues. “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.”
She goes on to say that she finds no joy in moving on from tennis, and no relief, as other players have said they felt. “I’m going to be honest,” Williams says. “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. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads.”
Williams adds that she prefers to refer to this period in her life not as “retirement” but as an “evolution,” a word that feels more modern and more in line with how she views this next chapter. That’s not to say that any ounce of the competitiveness has drained from her body, though. In fact, she’s still thinking about the few records she had left to break. “The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus grand slams,” she explains. “I had my chances after coming back from giving birth. I went from a C-section to a second pulmonary embolism to a grand slam final. I played while breastfeeding. I played through postpartum depression.” She continues, “I didn’t show up the way I should have or could have. But I showed up 23 times, and that’s fine. Actually it’s extraordinary. But these days, if I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter.”