Serena Williams will retire from tennis just as she played – on her own terms

She is a symbol. Character. She is an athlete who has surpassed her sister’s pioneering footsteps and come to dominate a reclusive, mostly white sport. She refuses to stop there.

Announcing her plans to retire from tennis, Serena Williams announced Tuesday that she will focus her life beyond sports and instead prioritize being a mother, a fashion maker, a venture capitalist and more. She will design her future as she sees fit.

This is Serena.

She has always done it her way, always working on her own terms. He made her special, uniquely skilled and likable – and she drew criticism at times. It helped her become one of the greatest athletes we have ever given our honor – a black woman who grew from America’s most humble beginnings into a star whose magnetic charisma transcends the boundaries of sport.

Her announcement, in a Vogue cover story released on Tuesday, that she would be leaving tennis after playing the US Open later this month, befitting the transcendent personality she has become.

It’s easy to forget that her tournament journey, which came to include 23 Grand Slam singles titles, just shy of Margaret Court’s record of 24, began by winning the US Open in 1999. At age 17, Serena became the first A black player since Arthur Ashe in 1975 to win a singles Grand Slam title and the first black woman to emerge victorious in a slam since Althea Gibson in 1958.

Williams became the embodiment of sporting greatness and carried – for at least two decades – the aspirations of gender and race equality.

Along the way, she showed the world the amazing power to break boundaries and obliterate norms. The Vogue article, a first-person account, feels distinctly symbolic, even if it has long been expected, given Williams’ rival struggles in recent years. She did not post the news on her Instagram account, on ESPN, or in a post-match press conference. No, Williams does what she wants, when she wants, the way she wants.

Of course she has Anna Wintour, the tennis-loving editor of Vogue, on speed dial. Of course she will announce that she is taking a break from the game of tennis through one of the world’s leading fashion magazines.

Serena Williams never let tennis know her.

With the news of retirement, our memories of her come in waves. Oh, how she loved to entertain and put on a show. Isn’t that what attracted us to it? She had a talent, a hunger, a desire that required to be seen. Watching her step on the Grand Slam center court in a first-round match or final under pressure was entertainment at its best. You have drawn so many people to this moment, and brought with them those who would not otherwise have watched a tennis match.

These new fans, and the many experienced tennis fans who have watched the game for years, stood behind her when she fought back or found herself surrounded by disputes over the fierce way she sometimes broke the rules of court etiquette.

Who can forget the 2018 US Open, when she so heartily hit the chair umpire who awarded her first a point and then a full match towards the end of the loss to Naomi Osaka? The full spectrum of her tennis career – dozens of smashing wins and occasional tumultuous upsets – is woven into the fabric of Serena Williams.

Race can never be ruled out when we talk about Serena or Venus Williams, the older sister who started it all. Their blackness and physique, cast against a world of tennis where only a few of them shared a similar appearance, they felt so ostentatious.

Ashe and Gibson were good players who were great at times. Yannick Noah, the mixed-race son of a black Cameroonian father and a white mother, won the 1983 French Open. A few other black players, both male and female, have made short but significant marks in tennis.

Nobody walked on top of or dominated the game with the sheer consistency of the Williams sisters.

Serena added a daring challenge to the task, as her father Richard Williams confidently predicted, who said even when the flower was first on the tennis court, Serena would be the best in tennis history.

Can you imagine Jimmy Evert, Chris Evert’s father, coach, and member of the Tennis Foundation, saying the same about his daughter when she came on the scene in the early 1970s?

Nothing Serena Williams did was bound by tradition. She defied the status quo and played with a combination of consistent power, thrills, and touch in the net, revitalizing her transmitting for ages and the boxer’s steel will.

Only the elite elite can change how their sport is played. Think of Stephen Curry’s influence on modern basketball and its fixation on outside shooting. Or Tiger Woods’ revolutionary influence on golf. Add Williams to the mix.

Others played a power game in front of her – Jennifer Capriati, for example – just as there were other 3-point shooters before Curry. Williams took the game to new heights. She went to the 1999 US Open final against Martina Hingis, who jumped to the top of the standings by playing brilliantly and exploiting every corner as prescribed by the old guard. With Williams’ strength, speed and determination serving Hingis, 6-3, 7-6, tennis will never be the same.

Think not just of Williams’ game but her style – how she has transcended the age-old standards of fashion and appearance codified in tennis since the Victorian era.

Williams appeared as her full self, with her hair braided, embroidered, or sometimes blonde. On the playground, she wore clothes of every color: blue, red, pink, black, tan, you name it. She wore studs, sequins, and shoes disguised as tennis shoes – or the other way around?

She wore dresses that rolled and swayed, or proudly showed her strong stomach and shoulders. She made the full body catsuit a thing at the 2002 US Open and the talk of Paris at the 2018 French Open.

“I feel like a warrior, a warrior princess,” Williams told reporters at the French Open, referring to Black Panther.

“It’s kind of my way of being a superhero.”

Sure, noticing her fashion might seem superficial and unnecessary. But not in this context. Black women’s bodies and fashion are often severely criticized in ways that white women do not usually encounter. Moreover, tennis is one of those games committed to the tradition of exclusion and standardization. Williams blew it all up.

Here’s another way I jumped beyond the old frontiers. Remember, Williams won the 2017 Australian Open when she was two months pregnant. Then he remembered that she almost died in labour. Then he remembers her return after the birth of Alexis Olympia. She would have made four more major tournament finals.

I lost all of them, right, and none were alike. But Williams was well past her best years, with a child standing by her side and flattering the business world. Her return from pregnancy helped change an important rule in women’s professional tennis – allowing players to enter tournaments based on their pre-pregnancy rankings for up to three years after giving birth.

Now, Williams plans to end this phase of her life after her last game at the US Open, whether it’s a first-round loss or another against all odds: winning it all, at 40, after barely stepping on the tour over the past year.

You will not go easily. She made it clear when she announced what she described as her “development,” which would include trying to have another child. She said her attempts interfered with the continuation of her tennis career, a fact she suggested that male professional athletes do not have to contend with.

This seems to be the final stage of her career, but we should never be surprised by Williams. I wouldn’t be shocked if, perhaps with a second baby or more, she showed up on the Pro Tour again, even if it was just one bite of the sporting spotlight.

If Serena Williams wanted it, she would. This is what we know.

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