It was an inevitable decision and Serena Williams’ announcement in Vogue should not be seen as a surprise.
The last year has been tough on her physically but at the same time not playing competitive, professional singles tennis for a year gave her a greater opportunity to pour her heart and soul into matters away from tennis.
There is no two ways about it, the decision to be hanging up her racquets was far from easy.
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She was torn because as much as she cherishes the thrill of striking a blistering ace or rifling a forehand, Serena enjoys the art of a business deal just as much.
At Wimbledon I asked her how much more she enjoyed all the off-court aspects of her life, especially as she had not played and was able to delve into the ventures a lot more. She has a company that is starting to truly develop, Serena Ventures, a venture capital company; she mixes it with many of the stratospheric names in show business – for example Beyoncé is one of her closest friends; she has shareholdings in football teams, she’s been involved in the MetGala and produced an Oscar nominated film.
“It’s been totally different, honestly,” Serena said.
“Apart from me feels like that is a little bit more of my life now than tournaments.
“When you have a venture company, you do have to go all in. It definitely takes literally all my extra time. And it’s fun I absolutely love what I do. I love investing in companies.”
Serena Williams does nothing in half measures. It’s all or nothing. It is part of her make-up, and it highlights the inner drive she has to be the best at whatever she does.
I was able to see that firsthand when for over a decade I worked for Serena. To quote Judi Dench in “Shakespeare in Love”, “by God (she) knows what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world”.
It was a point that was made so clear by her in the self-penned Vogue feature about her announcement.
“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family,” she wrote. “I don’t think it’s fair. 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. Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had the opportunity.”
She has made it very clear that she is torn by this decision; torn between expanding her family as daughter Olympia wants to be a “big sister” to a sister and playing tennis despite closing in on her 41st birthday and her business interests. It’s easy to say why not have it all, but in this case that is not possible as superhuman as Williams might appear to most.
The “R” word can easily be used in this situation but in essence she is not retiring. The two words she prefers to use are “transition” and “evolution”. She is simply moving to another phase of her life, it’s not as if she is riding off into the sunset.
She is full of praise and admiration for Ash Barty retiring the way she did while at the very top of the sport and after just winning a major, and of Caroline Wozniacki, one of her closest friends. For Serena there is no happiness in the matter and having worked for her I would know that to be oh so true. You can feel how awkward and emotional it all is.
“I hate that I have to be at this crossroads,” she wrote in Vogue.
John McEnroe’s biography was “Rage to Perfection”. That in fact epitomizes Serena and she has always said that is her essence.
What she achieved in tennis is truly remarkable. She people proved wrong time and again and she loved that every single time. She was driven by negativity that was directed at her and she did it her way and she will continue to do it her way.
There is not likely to be another tennis player like her, in fact you wonder if there will be another female athlete like her.
She never wanted to be considered one of the greatest female athletes in the world, she wanted to be considered one of the greatest athletes … period. She should probably be considered alongside the likes of Tom Brady, Usain Bolt, Michael Jordan and company because not only did she reach the summit, she and her family did it without any favors being handed out.
It will be a loss for tennis to not have her around after this year but with her not playing for a year, it provided an opportunity to slowly get used to her absence.
Serena Williams was great to work for. Like any human being you knew the times when to give her space and not pester her but besides those moments Serena was always very kind. She was interested in what you were doing and happy to accept suggestions.
The tough exterior most would see of Serena Williams on a tennis court, is opposite to what she actually is.
There is no doubt in five years she will be honored with tennis’ greatest award, induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
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