Serena Williams, the 23-time Grand Slam champion who has been the face of tennis since winning her first U.S. Open in 1999, said in a magazine article published online on Tuesday that she planned to retire from the sport after playing again in the tournament, which begins later this month.
Williams, who long ago transcended her sport as a dominant cultural figure, said in an as-told-to cover story for Vogue that she has “never liked the word retirement,” and preferred the word “evolution” to describe her next steps. “I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me,” including working with her venture capital firm and growing her family.
She was not explicit about when she might stop playing, but hinted on Instagram that the U.S. Open could be her last tournament. “The countdown has begun,” she said, adding, “I’m gonna relish these next few weeks.”
Exiting the stage this year at the U.S. Open would be a fitting end to Williams’s storied career. She won her first Grand Slam title there, in 1999, when she was just 18-years-old, or 23 years ago, a number that matches her career Grand Slam tally.
“It feels like the right exclamation point, the right ending,” said Pam Shriver, the former player and tennis commentator who was one of the great doubles champions of the 1980s. “It doesn’t matter her result, and it’s a conclusion that feels a lot better than last year at Wimbledon.”
At Wimbledon in 2021, Williams was forced to retire from her first round match after just a few minutes when she slipped and tore her hamstring.
The injury sidelined her for nearly a year. In fact, Shriver and others thought it was likely that Williams might never officially retire but would instead drift into the existence that she assumed for nearly a year following her teary Wimbledon exit.
This spring though, Williams said she got the itch to play competitively again. In the Vogue story, she stated that Tiger Woods convinced her to commit to training hard for two weeks and see what transpired. She did not immediately take his advice but eventually began hitting and signed up for the doubles competition at a Wimbledon tuneup event.
At Wimbledon, she played a spirited but inconsistent three-hour, first-round match but lost to Harmony Tan of France, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (7), during which she showed flashes of the power and touch that had once made her nearly unbeatable.
Williams said that she and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, planned to have another child.
“In the last year, Alexis and I have been trying to have another child, and we recently got some information from my doctor that put my mind at ease and made me feel that whenever we’re ready, we can add to our family. I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete. I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.”
Williams, whose last Grand Slam tournament victory came while she was pregnant during the Australian Open in 2017, was eliminated from Wimbledon in June in the first round.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t ready to win Wimbledon this year,” Williams said. “And I don’t know if I will be ready to win New York. But I’m going to try. And the lead-up tournaments will be fun.”
Williams has won nearly $100 million in prize money.
For the moment, Williams is second to Margaret Court of Australia in Grand Slam singles championships, a record she had multiple chances to tie and surpass in 2018 and 2019 when she lost four Grand Slam finals without winning a set. However, few in tennis believe that shortcoming should tarnish the legacy that Williams leaves as the greatest female tennis player, and one of the greatest athletes in any sport.
This is a developing story and will be updated.