Serena Williams says she may have thought about breaking Margaret Court’s Grand Slam record “too much” and should have more than 30 majors to her name.
Saying “the countdown has begun,” 23-time grand slam champion Williams announced she is ready to step away from tennis so she can turn her focus to having another child and her business interests, presaging the end of a career that transcended sports.
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In an essay released by Vogue magazine, and a post on Instagram, Williams was not completely clear on the timeline for her last match, but she made it sound as if that could be at the US Open, which begins on August 29 in New York.
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In an honest reflection on her career, Williams referenced Court throughout the piece more than once, while seemingly putting her argument forward for being the greatest female tennis player ever.
“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. Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her. If I’m in a grand slam final, then yes, I am thinking about that record. Maybe I thought about it too much, and that didn’t help.
“The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus grand slams. 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 post-partum depression.
“But I didn’t get there. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. 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 resumé and building my family, I choose the latter.”
Williams scored her first win on the tour in more than a year with a straight sets victory over Nuria Parrizas Diaz at the WTA Toronto event this week. The former world number one had played her first singles match in a year during a first round defeat at Wimbledon in June.
“I know there’s a fan fantasy that I might have tied Margaret that day in London, then maybe beat her record in New York, and then at the trophy ceremony say, ‘See ya!’ I get that. It’s a good fantasy,” she wrote.
Williams also referenced Ash Barty and her decision to walk away, even though she says it will be much tougher for her to say goodbye than Barty revealed earlier this year.
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“I know that a lot of people are excited about and look forward to retiring, and I really wish I felt that way,” Williams wrote. “Ashleigh Barty was number one in the world when she left the sport this March, and I believe she really felt ready to move on. Caroline Wozniacki, who is one of my best friends, felt a sense of relief when she retired in 2020.
“Praise to these people, but I’m going to be honest. 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. I keep saying to myself, I wish it could be easy for me, but it’s not.”
That she would be publicly contemplating the end of her playing days is not all that surprising to anyone, given her age — her 10 grand slam titles after turning 30 are unsurpassed — her history of injuries and her recent record: one victory in a singles match in the past 12 months.
Her status as an athlete, and a groundbreaker, is obvious to everyone.
Former Wimbledon Champions, Margaret Court, Pat Cash and John Newcombe look on during the Centre Court Centenary Ceremony during day seven of The Championships Wimbledon 2022 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 03, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images) (Getty)
“Serena Williams is a generational, if not multi-generational, talent who had a profound impact on the game of tennis, but an even greater influence on women in sports, business and society. At a time when our nation and the world have wrestled with essential issues of identity, Serena has stood as a singular exemplar of the best of humanity after breaking through countless barriers to her participation and ultimate success,” US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster said. “She leaves an indelible legacy of grace and grit that will inspire athletes, female and male, for many generations to come. We can’t thank her enough for all she has done for our sport.”
US Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier said the organisation “will be operating under the assumption that this will be Serena Williams’ last US Open.”
It is the year’s final grand slam event and one she has won six times, most recently in 2014, to go along with seven titles apiece at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, plus three at the French Open, across a career remarkable for its peaks and its longevity.
She also owns 14 grand slam doubles championships, all won with her older sister, Venus, part of a remarkable tale of two siblings from Compton, California, who grew up to both be ranked No.1, win dozens of trophies and dominate tennis for stretches — a story told in the Oscar-winning film “King Richard.”
Venus, who is 42 and still competing, was the first in the family to break through, reaching her first grand slam final at the 1997 US Open. But it was Serena who soon surpassed her sister, winning the 1999 US Open at age 17 and then going on to add 22 more such triumphs (Venus won seven major singles titles), eventually establishing herself as a one-of-a-kind superstar, known for far more than her talent with a racquet in hand.
Serena and her husband were very proud of “Junior” after her first ballet recital. The proud parents brought flowers, a doll, and even a ring-pop to congratulate the four-year-old on her milestone achievement. (Instagram)
The younger Williams was armed with as effective a serve as there’s ever been, powerful forehands and backhands, instincts and speed that allowed her to cover every inch of a court and switch from defence to offense in a blink, and an enviable will to win. That unflinching desire to be the best helped make her the best — and also sometimes got her into trouble with chair umpires during matches, most infamously during the 2018 US Open final she lost to Naomi Osaka, a woman more than a decade younger who grew up idolising Williams, as have so many of today’s players.
The official Twitter feed for Wimbledon posted this message above a photo of Williams: “Some play the game. Others change it.”
“I don’t particularly like to think about my legacy. I get asked about it a lot, and I never know exactly what to say. But I’d like to think that thanks to opportunities afforded to me, women athletes feel that they can be themselves on the court,” Williams wrote. “They can play with aggression and pump their fists. They can be strong yet beautiful. They can wear what they want and say what they want and kick butt and be proud of it all.”
The American has won more grand slam singles titles in the professional era than any other woman or man. Only one player, Margaret Court, collected more, 24, although the Australian won a portion of hers in the amateur era.
Serena and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, have a daughter, Olympia, who turns 5 on September 1.
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“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair,” said Williams, who was pregnant when she won the 2017 Australian Open for her last grand slam trophy. “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 labour of expanding our family.”
Williams said she and Ohanian want to have a second baby, and wrote: “I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete. I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.”
She was off the tour for about a year after getting injured during her first-round match at Wimbledon in 2021. She returned to singles competition at the All England Club this June and lost in the first round.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t ready to win Wimbledon this year. And I don’t know if I will be ready to win New York,” Williams wrote in her essay. “But I’m going to try.”
Williams hints in the Vogue essay that the US Open will be her last tournament but does not say so explicitly.
“I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment,” Williams wrote. “I’m terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst.”
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