One of the greatest athletes in any sport is about to call it quits, though she shies away from the word “retirement.” But for Serena Williams, soon to turn 41 (September), the end of her time in professional tennis represents the conclusion of arguably the greatest career in that sport. She announced this week that the U.S. Open, which begins later this month, would be her final professional tournament. “I have never liked the word ‘retirement,‘” Williams wrote in a statement first published in Vogue. “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.”
The numbers alone stamp her singular greatness. She, has 73 career singles titles, 23 career doubles titles and 23 Grand Slam titles, plus over $94 million in career winnings. But there’s one thing Williams has been chasing the past few years that may ultimately elude her. Williams commented on it during the article, noting that some of her detractors point out that she hasn’t won the most Grand Slam titles in women’s tennis history.
“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.” “I don’t know if I will be ready to win New York. But I’m going to try,” Williams wrote about the tournament, which is played in Queens.
Serena Williams has accomplished her amazing list of feats during the most competitive era in tennis history. The Open era has allowed the greatest players from around the world to participate in tournaments, while Court competed for much of her career in a time when the field wasn’t nearly as inclusive or competitive. That doesn’t detract from her 24 titles, but there’s no question that Williams has excelled in a tougher era. It’s also interesting that her father Richard, early in the careers of both Venus and Serena, identified Serena as the one who would become the greatest of the two. The Williams sisters forever changed the sport of tennis, both through their incredible playing abilities and their willingness to take stands on other, non-sports related issues. Venus also was a major champion in the push to get equal pay for women tennis players with their male counterparts in Grand Slam events.
Plus Serena Willlams has done something no woman ever has and probably never will again. She won the 2017 Australian Open, her seventh in that event, while being 20 weeks pregnant. Not only did she win the title, she didn’t drop a set. Only five people knew she was pregnant, among them her sister Venus, her husband Alexis Ohanian and the doctor who examined her. That was her final Grand Slam win and no doubt her most memorable. Williams has also been steadily moving toward a post-tennis life, Among her prominent plans are the expansion of Serena Ventures. Currently a small investment firm with six people, the company raised $111 million in outside financing this year. One of her main goals in providing more venture capital for women. In her article she wrote that only two percent of venture capital goes to women. “In order for us to change that, more people who look like me need to be in that position, giving money back to themselves.”
Williams also has multiple sponsorships for such companies as Nike, Audemars Piguet, Away, Beats, Bumble, Gatorade, Gucci, Lincoln, Michelob, Nintendo, Wilson Sporting Goods, and Procter and Gamble.
Nike said it would continue working with Williams. “Serena Williams redefined what it means to be a true champion. Her legacy transcends sport and has inspired generations,” the company said. “We look forward to continuing our long-standing partnership with her. And, we thank her for all she has done and will do in the future.”
She also acknowledged that family concerns have influenced the decision. Her daughter is now almost five, and Williams said she wants to be an older sister. “I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair,” Williams added.. “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.”
“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.”
While she won’t be among the favorites for this year’s U.S. Open, no one is assuming she’s incapable of making one last, glorious run to a Grand Slam title. But win or lose, Serena Williams had carved a legacy in professional sports that extends far beyond the realm of athletics and into that of positively impacting culture both nationally and globally.
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