Serena Williams is ready to redefine ‘retirement’ — Andscape

I used to be at a perform not too long ago when any person I’d misplaced contact with requested if I had retired. The query, relatively the R-word, was like an arrow in my coronary heart. 

“Retirement” was not a phrase, was not even an idea I accepted or acknowledged. I instantly went on the assault, telling the person that since leaving The New York Occasions, I’d been working at a terrific ESPN web site, Andscape, went on and on in regards to the work I used to be doing, earlier than realizing how the mere point out of the R-word had set me off. It felt like a dying knell.

That is the sentiment that resonated with me as I learn Serena Williams’ eloquent essay in Vogue saying that she was stepping away from tennis.

She wrote about how a lot she abhors the phrase “retirement,” the way it was not something she mentioned in any depth with anybody outdoors her therapist.

She wrote: “I’ve by no means preferred the phrase retirement. It doesn’t really feel like a contemporary phrase to me. I’ve been considering of this as a transition, however I wish to be delicate about how I take advantage of that phrase, which implies one thing very particular and necessary to a neighborhood of individuals. Possibly one of the best phrase to explain what I’m as much as is evolution. I’m right here to inform you that I’m evolving away from tennis, towards different issues which can be necessary to me.”


The upcoming US Open will possible be Williams’ final look, actually as a participant in a Grand Slam occasion. She didn’t say whether or not she and her sister Venus will bow out collectively. All we all know for certain is that probably the most phenomenal careers in sports activities historical past is ending.

Serena Williams has 23 Grand Slam singles championships in her profession, one shy of tying Margaret Courtroom’s girls’s report.

Li Ying/Xinhua by way of Getty Pictures

For all my hand-wringing, there are important variations between the artist and the athlete with regards to “retirement.” The artist — the author, the singer, the musician — can carry out at excessive ranges for a number of a long time. I attended the Newport Jazz Pageant final month and watched Ron Carter, the legendary bassist, carry out at age 85. His solely concession to age was sitting right down to play the upright bass relatively than standing.

Regardless of how a lot the athlete’s thoughts and spirit are keen, the physique reaches a degree at which it could now not reply. The previous few years have been grueling for Williams. I wished desperately to see her tie or break Margaret Courtroom’s report of 24 Grand Slam titles. In pursuit of that report, Williams overcame a pulmonary embolism that occurred after the emergency cesarean part supply of her daughter and a second embolism to play in a Grand Slam closing, which she misplaced. Tying Courtroom was merely not meant to be.

The athlete’s physique has a finite shelf life. As Williams stated in her essay, she needs the experience wouldn’t have to finish.

She wrote: “There isn’t any happiness on this matter for me. I do know it’s not the standard factor to say, however I really feel quite a lot of ache. It’s the toughest factor that I might ever think about. I hate it. I hate that I should be at this crossroads. I maintain saying to myself, I want it may very well be straightforward for me, however it’s not. I’m torn. I don’t need it to be over, however on the identical time I’m prepared for what’s subsequent.”

Williams lastly decided that she was unwilling to make the big sacrifices required to proceed enjoying at a championship degree. A posse of hungry younger tennis gamers who grew up idolizing Serena and Venus at the moment are knocking on the door. And like Williams, they take no prisoners.

Moderately than struggle her method out of a nook, Williams has chosen to gracefully step away. She did so on her personal phrases and in her personal phrases.

Within the coming weeks, months and years, we are going to speak about Williams’ transformational virtues as a tennis participant — her mixture of energy and style and her aggressive fireplace. What she additionally did was encourage athletes — feminine athletes, Black feminine athletes — to outline themselves, to talk their minds in their very own distinctive method.

Every part she did, from the way in which she dressed to the way in which she used her muscular physique to crush opponents to the essay in Vogue saying her evolution away from tennis, has been self-defining.

For greater than twenty years, Venus Williams (left) and Serena Williams (proper) redefined girls’s tennis and impressed a technology of Black tennis gamers.

Julian Finney/Getty Pictures

Retirement for an athlete is a type of profession dying that isn’t straightforward to face. Regardless of how spectacular your athletic feats might have been, whenever you retire, you develop into yesterday’s information. Life goes on.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady introduced his retirement in February 2022. It took lower than six weeks for Brady to resolve to unretire and reenter the sector. I’m wondering if Williams may have the same change of coronary heart. Will she have the ability to withstand the siren’s track to return again? She has been the focus for therefore lengthy that the thought of stepping away should be terrifying. A whole identification is wrapped round a profession and a sport.

And if you happen to’re Serena Williams, you even have needed to carry the burden of the world in your shoulders. She has impressed generations of younger ladies, younger ladies of shade, Black ladies who selected tennis due to Williams. For me, tennis was the Williams sisters.

So many older Black girls noticed Williams as a daughter or granddaughter. She has been the sports activities equal of Beyoncé and is her technology’s Aretha Franklin, singing loud and lengthy and leaving no uncertainty about the way in which she felt. She was a Black lady dominating a sport that was presupposed to be outdoors the attain of African People. She introduced us contained in the nation membership.

What is going to tennis in america be with out Williams? The game will proceed because it has for years, however girls’s tennis won’t be the identical.

I believe that the essay in Vogue shall be Williams’ solely official announcement. She’s going to play on the US Open and maybe merely transfer on.

I’m desirous to comply with the chapters Williams will write within the coming years. Elevating her daughter Olympia shall be a lifetime journey. And like her profession, Williams’ enterprise capital enterprise, Serena’s Ventures, might have a trailblazing impression on girls of shade.

I’m additionally curious to see how Williams will alter to life after sports activities. Quite a few years in the past when quarterback Brett Favre was considering retirement, his agent advised him to make sure that this was what he wished to do as a result of he would by no means once more expertise the push from the roar of the gang as he had in an NFL stadium. Williams will expertise yet one more roar at any time when she decides to have a closing public celebration of her profession.

In the meantime, she has eased my discomfort in regards to the R-word by redefining the idea — a lot as she redefined girls’s tennis — and making one factor very clear: Serena Williams isn’t retiring, she’s merely evolving to the next aircraft.

William C. Rhoden, the previous award-winning sports activities columnist for The New York Occasions and creator of Forty Million Greenback Slaves, is a writer-at-large for Andscape.


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