Serena Williams Is Hanging Up Her Racket to Focus On Family

"I'd like to think that thanks to opportunities afforded to me, women athletes feel that they can be themselves on the court."

Serena Williams Silk Slip Dress Black Backdrop Sand Vogue Cover
Photo: Luis Alberto Rodriguez/Vogue

Serena Williams is saying goodbye to tennis after more than 20 years on the court, 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 39 Grand Slam titles overall, three Olympic gold medals, and six U.S. Open titles. Williams, who is highly regarded as the G.O.A.T. of the sport, made the announcement with a special Vogue cover story which dropped on Tuesday.

"I have never liked the word retirement," she told the publication. "It doesn't feel like a modern word to me. I've been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. 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. A few years ago, I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, I started a family. I want to grow that family."

And while she knows what she has to do, it hasn't been an easy decision for her to reach. In fact, she still feels emotional about the whole thing. "I've been reluctant to admit to myself or anyone else that I have to move on from playing tennis," she continued. "Alexis, my husband, and I have hardly talked about it; it's like a taboo topic. I can't even have this conversation with my mom and dad. It's like it's not real until you say it out loud. It comes up, I get an uncomfortable lump in my throat, and I start to cry. The only person I've really gone there with is my therapist!"

On the cover, Williams posed on a beach at sunset (certainly a metaphor of sorts) in a robin's egg blue, nylon Balenciaga dress with a long train that was held up by her adorable daughter Olympia, whom she shares with husband Alexis Ohanian. She paired the striking gown with matching statement earrings and her natural curls blew in the wind. For her part, Olympia wore a sweet white dress.

Serena Williams Vogue Cover Blue Dress Beach Long Train Olympia
Luis Alberto Rodriguez/Vogue

In another shot, Serena posed against a distressed black and beige backdrop wearing a plunging, pale blue silk slip dress by Sergio Hudson. She also wore a white, back muscle-baring Danielle Frankel gown and an asymmetric Ralph Lauren Collection frock.

Serena Williams Silk Slip Dress Black Backdrop Sand Vogue Cover
Luis Alberto Rodriguez/Vogue

She told the publication that she didn't think it was "fair" that she had to choose between tennis and raising a family — a decision that only female athletes have to make. "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 said. "Maybe I'd be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity. Don't get me wrong: I love being a woman, and I loved every second of being pregnant with Olympia. I was one of those annoying women who adored being pregnant and was working until the day I had to report to the hospital — although things got super complicated on the other side. And I almost did do the impossible: A lot of people don't realize that I was two months pregnant when I won the Australian Open in 2017. But I'm turning 41 this month, and something's got to give."

Williams will play one last U.S. Open in New York City at the end of this month before she hangs up her racket for good. When it comes to leaving it all on the court, the record-breaking player just hopes she was a pioneer for other women athletes. "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," she explained. "But I'd like to think that thanks to opportunities afforded to me, women athletes feel that they can be themselves on the court. 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."

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