Serena Williams says goodbye to tennis—and hello to her next chapter
Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Nebraska law enforcement used Facebook data to prosecute a teenager for abortion, Meta’s new CFO has a challenge ahead, and Serena Williams says goodbye to tennis—and hello to her next chapter.
– GOAT says goodbye. Yesterday morning, Serena Williams announced her upcoming retirement from professional tennis. The Greatest of All Time (GOAT) wrote in a Vogue cover story that she is “evolving away” from her career as a professional athlete and embracing other parts of her life.
At almost 41, Williams has been playing professional tennis for longer than some of her competitors have been alive. Her decision to retire from the sport after this month’s U.S. Open was personal, emotional, and specific to her unique circumstances as one of the world’s top athletes.
But her reasoning will be familiar to any working parent, even those without 23 Grand Slams to their name: a child’s unintentional guilt trip. “I want to be a big sister,” Williams recalls her almost 5-year-old daughter, Olympia, telling her.
That can be a heart-wrenching moment for any parent, let alone a mother who dealt with childbirth complications that directly affected her ability to return to the court at the top of her game. “I went from a C-section to a second pulmonary embolism to a grand slam final,” she writes.
Beyond her daughter’s commentary, Williams describes her own desire to grow her family. The internal push and pull between work and family is even more loaded when one’s career is physically demanding and requires athletic excellence. “I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. 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,” Williams writes.
Williams’s experiences as a working mother will certainly resonate with many of her fans. But what may also hit home is the way Williams’s work has formed a large part of her identity—and the effort it takes to build a new one once her tennis career comes to a close. “I’m going to miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis,” Williams writes.
So who’s the next version of Serena? The tennis star is focusing on her venture capital fund, Serena Ventures. She’s long been an active leader of the early-stage firm, making funding decisions and contributing ideas in between matches. Serena Ventures general partner, Alison Rappaport Stillman, spoke to my Fortune colleague Jessica Mathews yesterday about what’s next for the firm, which has 16 unicorn businesses among its portfolio companies.
“I feel like I go to sleep getting messages from her and wake up getting messages from her,” says Rappaport Stillman of Williams’s involvement. “Nothing’s going to replace what tennis was for her, but as she’s thinking about what’s next—it’s exciting to see her as passionate about this as you see her on the court.” Even yesterday, the day of her retirement announcement, Williams joined the firm’s team call that morning.
We can expect to see more from Williams, at Serena Ventures and beyond, as she charts her next act. But for now, we can take a moment to appreciate the first half of her career. Twenty three singles slams, a robust field of competitors, a more diverse sport—those achievements are all due to the Williams sisters.
“I showed up 23 times, and that’s fine,” Williams writes of falling just short of Margaret Court’s 24-slam record. “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.” Read the full piece here.
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