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Game, set, unmatched. After spending most of her life in professional tennis, Serena Williams has announced her intention to retire from the sport -- but she's not using that word.
"I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me," she shares in a first-person account published for Vogue's September 2022 issue. "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."
The 40-year-old star welcomed her first child, daughter Olympia, with husband Alexis Ohanian in 2017. The 23-time Grand Slam winner detailed how the youngster prays for a baby sister and often says she wants to be a big sister -- something Serena and Alexis have been planning for. "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," she shares. "I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete. I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out."
After all, she experienced the hardship of doing both firsthand. "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," Williams candidly recalls. "I played while breastfeeding. I played through postpartum 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 résumé and building my family, I choose the latter."
As she points out in the piece, it's not a decision a man would have to face the same way. "If I were a guy," she says, "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. Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity."
Now, saying goodbye to the sport she has known all her life is the furthest thing from a relief for the tennis court icon. "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," she says. "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. I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to look at this magazine when it comes out, knowing that this is it, the end of a story that started in Compton, California, with a little Black girl who just wanted to play tennis."
And it's for the girls who follow in her footsteps that she hopes her legacy helps the most.
"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," she says. "I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career. Mistakes are learning experiences, and I embrace those moments. I’m far from perfect, but I’ve also taken a lot of criticism, and I’d like to think that I went through some hard times as a professional tennis player so that the next generation could have it easier."
Vogue's September 2022 issue is available on newsstands nationwide on Aug. 16.