Serena Williams gave Vogue the exclusive on her retirement.
serena williams gave vogue the exclusive on her retirement.

Serena Williams gave Vogue the exclusive on her retirement.

ImageSerena Williams at the French Open last year.Credit…Pete Kiehart for The New York Times

Serena Williams, the 23-time Grand Slam champion who has been the face of tennis since winning her first U.S. Open in 1999, said in a magazine article published online on Tuesday that she planned to retire from the sport after playing again in the tournament, which begins later this month.

Williams, who long ago transcended her sport as a dominant cultural figure, said in an as-told-to cover story for Vogue that she has “never liked the word retirement,” and preferred the word “evolution” to describe her next steps. “I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me,” including working with her venture capital firm and growing her family.

She was not explicit about when she might stop playing, but hinted on Instagram that the U.S. Open could be her last tournament. “The countdown has begun,” she said, adding, “I’m gonna relish these next few weeks.”

In Vogue’s September issue, @serenawilliams prepares to say farewell to tennis on her own terms and in her own words. “It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine,” she says. “I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next” https://t.co/6Zr0UXVTH1 pic.twitter.com/YtGtcc18a9

— Vogue Magazine (@voguemagazine) August 9, 2022

Exiting the stage this year at the U.S. Open would be a fitting end to Williams’s storied career. She won her first Grand Slam title there, in 1999, when she was just 17 years old, or 23 years ago, a number that matches her career Grand Slam tally.

“It feels like the right exclamation point, the right ending,” said Pam Shriver, the former player and tennis commentator who was one of the great doubles champions of the 1980s. “It doesn’t matter her result, and it’s a conclusion that feels a lot better than last year at Wimbledon.”

At Wimbledon in 2021, Williams was forced to retire from her first-round match after just a few minutes when she slipped and tore her hamstring.

The injury sidelined her for nearly a year. In fact, Shriver and others thought it was likely that Williams might never officially retire but would instead drift into the existence that she assumed for nearly a year following her teary Wimbledon exit.

This spring though, Williams said she got the itch to play competitively again. In the Vogue story, she stated that Tiger Woods convinced her to commit to training hard for two weeks and see what transpired. She did not immediately take his advice but eventually began hitting and signed up for the doubles competition at a Wimbledon tuneup event.

At Wimbledon, she played a spirited but inconsistent three-hour, first-round match but lost to Harmony Tan of France, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (7), during which she showed flashes of the power and touch that had once made her nearly unbeatable.

Williams said that she and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, planned to have another child.

“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. I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete. I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.”

Williams, whose last Grand Slam tournament victory came while she was pregnant during the Australian Open in 2017, was eliminated from Wimbledon in June in the first round.

“Unfortunately I wasn’t ready to win Wimbledon this year,” Williams said. “And I don’t know if I will be ready to win New York. But I’m going to try. And the lead-up tournaments will be fun.”

Williams has won nearly $100 million in prize money.

For the moment, Williams is second to Margaret Court of Australia in Grand Slam singles championships, a record she had multiple chances to tie and surpass in 2018 and 2019 when she lost four Grand Slam finals without winning a set. However, few in tennis believe that shortcoming should tarnish the legacy that Williams leaves as the greatest female tennis player, and one of the greatest athletes in any sport.

Correction: 

An earlier version of this article misstated Serena Williams’s age when she first won the U.S. Open in 1999. She was 17, not 18.

Alan BlinderAug. 9, 2022, 12:22 p.m. ETAug. 9, 2022, 12:22 p.m. ET

Alan Blinder

Wimbledon, the English tournament Serena Williams won in singles seven times, said on Twitter: “Some play the game. Others change it.” Addressing Williams, the tournament’s account added: “We hope the next few weeks bring you joy.” Williams last won Wimbledon in 2016, the same year she earned her sixth doubles title there.

Some play the game. Others change it.

We hope the next few weeks bring you joy, @serenawilliams 💜💚 pic.twitter.com/kuS6O87wI4

— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) August 9, 2022

Christopher ClareyAug. 9, 2022, 12:21 p.m. ETAug. 9, 2022, 12:21 p.m. ETImageSerena Williams, then 17, after defeating Martina Hingis in the 1999 U.S. Open final.Credit…Chang. W. Lee/The New York Times

How long has Serena Williams been a champion? She won her first Grand Slam singles title in the 20th century.

Williams was 17 when she won the 1999 U.S. Open. She had beads in her hair and, even at that early stage, plenty of sting in her strokes as she knocked out five past or future major champions, including the 18-year-old Martina Hingis in the final.

“Oh, my God, I won, oh my God,” Williams said, hand to her chest, looking as surprised as the rest of us.

Williams has seldom been the underdog since, but surprises have continued to be her trademark.

When she won the 2017 Australian Open, she was well aware that she was two months pregnant, but she kept the secret from all but her closest friends and family during the tournament and in the weeks that followed.

Now, the trophy from that victory sits on a shelf in the bedroom of her daughter, Olympia, who will turn 5 in September.

A strong argument can be made that that victory, which was Williams’s 23rd Grand Slam singles title, was as remarkable as her first, when she became the first African American woman since Althea Gibson in 1958 to win the U.S. Open.

Seven of Williams’s other major singles victories have come against her older sister Venus, who was born just 15 months ahead of her.

Williams, who said in Vogue on Tuesday that she plans to retire from tennis, is one championship shy of Margaret Court’s career record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Williams indicated that she would compete again in this year’s U.S. Open, which could end up being her last chance to tie Court’s record.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record,” Williams told the magazine. “Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her.”

Aug. 9, 2022, 12:11 p.m. ETAug. 9, 2022, 12:11 p.m. ET

In Vogue’s September issue, @serenawilliams prepares to say farewell to tennis on her own terms and in her own words. “It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine,” she says. “I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next” https://t.co/6Zr0UXVTH1 pic.twitter.com/YtGtcc18a9

— Vogue Magazine (@voguemagazine) August 9, 2022

The decision by Serena Williams to give the news of her retirement to Vogue might have seemed strange to people who don’t think of the magazine as a conventional news outlet — much less a sports magazine — but it makes perfect sense.

Vogue’s editor, Anna Wintour, in real life is, first, a tennis fan and, second, a fashion person. She plays tennis at the Midtown Tennis Club and another one of her favorite tennis players is Roger Federer. Wintour has been to nearly every Grand Slam that Williams has won, as well as her U.S. Open appearances. (In 2019, she was photographed in Williams’s box, sitting right behind Meghan Markle.)

Wintour first placed Williams in the magazine in 1998, when Annie Leibovitz photographed Williams with her sister Venus in matching black-and-white ball gowns from Carolina Herrera.

Since then, Williams has been on the cover of Vogue numerous times: in 2012, 2015, 2018 and 2020.

Williams has been to five Met galas and debuted her baby bump at the May 2017 gala. The following year, the first pictures of her with her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., by Mario Testino, were for her Vogue cover.

Further, celebrities breaking major pieces of news in fashion magazines makes a certain amount of sense. Women’s magazines expressly exist to celebrate women. Cover subjects are generally treated well, both by photographers and writers.

The exposure they receive there also helps them obtain campaigns and roles as brand ambassadors.

Over the years, Williams has moved steadily into that sphere. Her corporate sponsors in recent years have included Nike, JPMorgan Chase, Beats by Dre, Pepsi and Audemars Piguet, the Swiss watch manufacturer with pieces that typically run over $20,000.

And when Williams married her husband, Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit, Wintour consulted with her on her wedding dress, which was designed by Sarah Burton, for Alexander McQueen.

People magazine described it as a “grand slam.”

Victor MatherAug. 9, 2022, 11:45 a.m. ETAug. 9, 2022, 11:45 a.m. ETImageCredit…The New York Times

Rare among sports superstars, Serena Williams has been on fans’ radar since a very young age.

The first New York Times reference to her came in July 1991, in an article mentioning that her father, Richard, was considering sending Serena, 10, and Venus, 11, to Nick Bollettieri’s Florida-based tennis academy. Early coverage tended to focus on her older sister, with throwaway references saying that Serena looked pretty good too.

By 1995, Serena was making news off the court as lawsuits were threatened over the WTA’s minimum age rules. Finally, with the advantage of a loophole, she debuted at age 14 in October 1995, losing a match in Oakland, Calif., 6-1, 6-1, to 148th-ranked Anne Miller. The news garnered three paragraphs, below an item on Pete Sampras getting upset, but above the Big East cross-country championships. Earlier in the day another 14-year-old, Anna Kournikova, had cruised in her first match.

But Williams got better, and the articles kept coming. More than 5,000 over the years.

After seven Grand Slam wins, the first “Serena comeback” article appeared on the paper’s front page after she won the Australian Open in 2007. (It had been — gasp! — two years since her last Slam.)

The New York Times Magazine has weighed in. And Style: Shopping With Serena Williams. Kelly Rowland praised her Twitter feed. Culture reviewed a wind quintet inspired in part by her. Her appearance at the Oscars introducing “A Star Is Born” was duly noted. If there was a Serena Williams angle to be covered, The Times was on it.

Tuesday’s news adds to the coverage of Williams’ already remarkable life. She still has some tennis left in her, and her plans for family and her venture capital business could keep her in The Times for years to come. Not bad for someone whose first appearance read, in its entirety, “her 10-year-old sister, Serena Williams.”

Aug. 9, 2022, 11:11 a.m. ETAug. 9, 2022, 11:11 a.m. ET

Shawna Richer

VideoVideo player loadingSerena Williams hinted at her retirement plan one day before announcing it in a Vogue cover story, telling reporters in Toronto that she “can’t do this forever.”CreditCredit…Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

TORONTO — Serena Williams won her first match in more than a year on Monday and afterward all but said she was done playing tennis.

“There’s just a light at the end of the tunnel,” Williams said laughing when asked what drives her playing tennis these days. “I’m getting closer to the light. Lately that’s been that’s been it for me. I can’t wait to get to that light.”

Williams easily defeated Nuria Parrizas-Diaz, 6-3, 6-4, on Monday to advance to the second round at the National Bank Open.

After the match she seemed to be in light spirits.

“I love playing. It’s like, it’s amazing. But, you know, I can’t do this forever,” she said. “So it’s just like, sometimes you just want to try your best to enjoy the moments and do the best that you can.”

Oskar GarciaAug. 9, 2022, 11:10 a.m. ETAug. 9, 2022, 11:10 a.m. ET

Oskar Garcia

In her Vogue essay, Williams shares some revealing and deeply personal reflections on her career choices and womanhood. “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 says. “Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity.”

Victor MatherAug. 9, 2022, 10:20 a.m. ETAug. 9, 2022, 10:20 a.m. ETImageSerena Williams with the trophy after winning the U.S. Open in 2013.Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times

With the caveat that there still may be more to come from her this fall, Serena Williams has put a dazzling array of achievements into her sport’s record books.

She has won 23 Grand Slam singles events, ranging from 1999 when she was 17, to 2017. They included seven Australian Opens, three French Opens, seven Wimbledons, and six U.S. Opens. She also has 10 further appearances in Grand Slam singles finals.

The total is one short of the record of 24, set by Margaret Court, although about half of those wins came in the pre-1968 amateur era.

Williams has won 14 Grand Slam women’s doubles events, all of them with her sister, Venus. The pair never lost in a Grand Slam final. Serena also has two Grand Slams in mixed doubles with Max Mirnyi.

Williams has also participated in four Olympics, winning the singles gold medal in London in 2012 and the doubles with Venus three times.

Although she and her sister tended to play a lighter schedule than many players and prioritized the Grand Slams, she has 73 WTA titles in total, ranking her fifth all-time.

Although her wins have been fewer in recent years, she remains a huge attraction to sponsors. Forbes reported that from May 2021 to May 2022, she earned $45 million, only $300,000 of that on the court, ranking her 31st of all athletes and second among women behind Naomi Osaka.

Alan BlinderAug. 9, 2022, 10:04 a.m. ETAug. 9, 2022, 10:04 a.m. ET

Alan Blinder

Serena Williams has been a beacon to women in tennis and many other sports. Sarah Nurse, a star of the Canadian women’s hockey team that won gold at the Beijing Games, told me this summer that she didn’t look up to female hockey players as a child. Serena and Venus Williams resonated far more with her. “Maybe because they were athletic — they had big, strong bodies, which is something that I had growing up,” Nurse, 27, said.

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