Serena Williams has transcended the sport of tennis, becoming an icon of tennis, sport, business, motherhood, and humanity. In her own words, she determines her lasting legacy and history.
Serena Williams has been the face of women’s tennis for so long that it’s hard to imagine the sport without her. As she has done throughout her illustrious career (and life), she wrote a poignant essay about retiring on her own terms, in her own words.
And you really should read the candid and eloquent statement in its entirety.
I have written extensively about Serena Williams over the years. She set the standard for women’s tennis for decades. We’re not just talking about athletic greatness, but also about how women are valued in sport, how it’s elevated that value to even greater heights, and how it’s impacted the importance of women’s tennis in the world.
Talking about Serena Williams is talking about the trailblazer, who topped sales of men’s finals, translating her incredible presence into a billion-dollar business empire and venture capital firm, Serena Ventures, and of course who pushed the narrative for women’s equity in sport forward. Most of the following quotes come directly from Serena’s moving personal essay.
“I started playing tennis with the goal of winning the US Open. I didn’t think any further than that. And then I kept winning. I remember when I went over the count of the Martina Hingis Grand Slam. Then Seles. And then I linked Billie Jean King, who is such an inspiration to me because of how she pioneered gender equality in all sports. Then he climbed the Chris Evert–Martina Navratilova mountain.
Along with her incredible athletic gifts, Serena’s journey as a mother has also been completely inspiring. In all aspects of motherhood, she has once again set a high benchmark and, just like her retirement announcement, she has raised five-year-old Olympia (with husband Alexis Ohanian) in a way that further demonstrates her greatness. and its self-determination. . The fact that she maintained the highest standards in both (you could vote her Mother of the Year and Player of the Year at the same time!) makes her even more impressive.
Serena Williams could have been the Tom Brady of tennis, but she forged her own path by her own rules.
Serena Williams could have simply become the Tom Brady of tennis, have babies, or let the baby be carried to others (surrogacy could easily have been an option), and continue to climb the mountain of tennis prowess until Infinity. If she hadn’t given birth to baby Olympia, who knows where the 40-year-old would be sitting in the majors tally? The 23-time slam champion reflected as much.
“From my point of view, I should have had more than 30 Grand Slams. I had my chances after I returned from giving birth. I went from a cesarean to a second pulmonary embolism to a Grand Slam final. Slam. I played while breastfeeding. I played through postpartum depression. But I didn’t make it. Should, would, could. Didn’t show up like I should or could. do it. But I showed up 23 times, and that’s fine. In fact, it’s amazing.”
Serena’s iconic status has been earned in part by her amazing ability to stay true to herself, and her honest reflection on how motherhood has transformed her life is a testament to her humanity. A great person is great because they choose to be, not because of someone else’s directive.
“At the start of my career, I never thought about having children. There were times when I wondered if I should ever bring children into this world, with all its problems…I thought to myself that if I ever had a baby, I would have people looking after it 24/7. I’m not going to lie, I definitely have a lot of support. But I’m also an incredibly committed mom. My husband will tell you that I’m too practical. In five years, Olympia has only spent one 24-hour period away from me. Last year, when I was recovering from a hamstring injury, I was able to pick her up from school four or five days a week, and I always looked forward to seeing her face light up when she came out of the building and saw me waiting there for her. “It’s a sacrifice for me when it comes to Olympia. It all makes sense.”
When you’re awesome, everyone wants to share some of what they perceive to be your importance. Previous calls from legendary peers Billie Jean King and Chris Evert – who wrote an ‘open letter’ to this effect – have attempted to motivate Serena to focus solely on tennis and her run to the majors – are just a few examples of other people only seeing a small part of who she really is.
“Yet one question lingers – do you ever consider your place in history? Is it something you care about? I wonder if 20 years from now you might reflect on your career and regret not being 100% invested in tennis,” Evert wrote in 2006. “Because whether you want to admit it or not, these distractions tarnish your legacy.
But Serena has always been more than the sport she conquered: a rare and beautiful person who determines her second act which is to inspire the next generation within her own family as well as the world population.
“But these days, if I have to choose between building my tennis CV and building my family, I choose the latter.”
She may be stepping down from one extraordinary and iconic aspect of her life, but she continues to fuel her love, generosity, and hope for the future through her philanthropy and the expansion of her fulfilling family.
“In my own life, the balance has slowly shifted towards Serena Ventures. I always say I’m a sponge: at night I go to bed and squeeze myself in so that the next day I can take in as much information as I can. Every morning I get so excited to come down to my desk and hop on Zooms and start reviewing pitches from companies we’re considering investing in… This year we raised $111m in external funding , with banks, individuals and family offices.Seventy-eight percent of our portfolio happens to be businesses started by women and people of color, because that’s who we are.
Serena Williams’ track record will remain an astonishing bastion of excellence. And to put things into perspective, his long list of tennis accomplishments includes:
- Has 23 Grand Slam singles trophies (which is the Open Era record)
- Only tennis player, male or female, to have won three of the four Grand Slam tournaments at least 6 times.
- Won the WTA Tour championships five times.
- Along with her sister, Venus, Serena has the third-most double majors.
- She shares the record with Venus with the most Olympic gold medals, including three in doubles and one in singles (for EACH of them, which is absolutely incredible), and is the only woman in the open era to win gold in both categories.
- Oldest player to reach world No. 1 (April 2017) at the age of 35 years and six months.
- The oldest player to win a Grand Slam title at 35 years and four months, when she scored her last major at the 2017 Australian Open (while two months pregnant!).
- Won 14 major tournaments in women’s doubles
- She became the highest-paid female athlete in the world in 2016, earning nearly $29 million.
- Received the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year award four times (2003, 2010, 2016, 2018).
- Was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in December 2015.
- Highest-earning female athlete of all time (another GOAT stat to add to the pile).
- Has 73 WTA titles.
- Won a Fed Cup tag team title (1999)
- Won two Hopman Cup mixed team titles (2003, 2008).
All of these incredible stats aside, on the day she puts down her racket for the last time – which will be at this year’s US Open – she will remain one of the greatest champions the world has ever seen.
But the loss of tennis will be part of a complex and remarkable person who will continue to add to his impressive legacy. We will follow his future projects with particular attention.