Serena Williams Opens Up About Life After Tennis: “It’s Harder Than I Ever Imagined.”

Serena Williams Opens Up About Life After Tennis: “It’s Harder Than I Ever Imagined.”

Image Source: Getty / Kimberly White

Serena Williams is getting vulnerable about life after retirement. The tennis star shared her intimate reflections on Twitter: “I’m currently allowing myself to be tired. Allowing myself To relax. Allowing myself to just be,” Williams wrote. “It’s harder than I ever imagined. I’ve never allowed myself to do any of that before…”

Williams’s recent decision to step away from the world of tennis shook millions of fans around the world. The initial announcement came in the form of an emotional Vogue essay penned by Williams in August 2022.

At the time, Williams said she wanted to focus on growing her family without having to compete while pregnant, as she did while expecting her first child, Olympia Ohanian. Williams also said that she wanted to tend to her venture capital firm, Serena Ventures.

“I have never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me,” Williams told Vogue, stating her preference: evolution. “I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.”

But retirement, especially after a career spanning decades and the sport’s highest accolades, seems to be a challenging adjustment for Williams, as she stated in her recent tweet.

Still, there seems to be joy in her evolution, too. Williams recently threw her 5-year-old daughter Olympia a surprise “Moana” party. She also penned a children’s book, “The Adventures of Qai Qai,” released this September, in addition to her work with her diversity-focused firm Serena Ventures.

Williams ended her career at 23 grand slam titles, just one shy of beating the record previously set by Margaret Court. Her final tournament was the US Open, which provided an opportunity to tie Court’s record, but Williams went out in the third round. Williams said prior to the tournament, “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,” she told Vogue.

Even as the conversation around her retirement grew in the tennis world, Williams said she rarely spoke about the subject with those close to her, including her husband, Alexis Ohanian. In fact, her therapist was the only person she discussed her retirement with. “It’s like a taboo topic,” she said in the Vogue piece. “It’s like it’s not real until you say it out loud.”

Williams was candid about her mixed emotions, and the sorrow she felt in saying goodbye to the sport she so passionately played. “One thing I’m not going to do is sugarcoat this. I know that a lot of people are excited about and look forward to retiring, and I really wish I felt that way,” she said. Williams also expressed her frustration in having to choose between her career and family – a proposition often thrusted on women athletes, and not men.

“I wish it could be easy for me, but it’s not.”

“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,” she said. “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. I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next.”

In the Vogue piece, Williams reflected on on various moments in her career both small and monumental, including her early years of training with her sister Venus Williams, recently chronicled in the Oscar-nominated film “King Richard.” “My whole life, up to now, has been tennis,” she said. “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. This sport has given me so much.”

Though she indeed received one, Williams didn’t expect a big sendoff. “I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment. I’m terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst,” she said. “But please know that I am more grateful for you than I can ever express in words. You have carried me to so many wins and so many trophies. I’m going to miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis. And I’m going to miss you.”

But Williams may not miss the sport or the fans for too long, as she teased a possible return to tennis in October. “I’m not retired,” the athlete and entrepreneur said at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco on Oct. 19. When asked about the likelihood that she would play again, Williams said, “The chances are very high. You come to my house, I got a court. I got you.”

Only time will tell whether Williams will return to the professional tennis courts or not, but we’re keeping fingers crossed.

– Additional reporting by Sara Youngblood Gregory

Image Source: Vogue / Luis Alberto Rodriguez