Because no other athlete has performed in a body like his, a work of art as much shaped inside the weight rooms as heavenly blessed by the Creator who appreciates the functionality and beauty of thick thighs and full hips. Although some critics suggested otherwise and attempted to regulate her body, she poured her curves into catsuits and tutus and all types of spandex, and still dominated.
She challenged our limits because no other athletic woman has come this close to the Billionaire Boys’ Club, of which she stands right outside the door, ready to step through and then graciously take her seat as CEO of Serena Ventures. .
How fitting that she named her first-born Olympia. For everything that comes from Serena exists above mortals.
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More a force of nature than a fragile human being, she personified the distant chasm between the adored and those who adore them. I personally celebrated her, cheering through all of her iterations that started as Compton’s girl with beaded braids. Yet despite the tidy narrative that someone who looks like me should look up to her as a role model, I rarely saw myself in Serena Williams.
But now it has never been so easy to understand.
She is over 40 and takes her life into account. She sees the end of her playing days, and there in the light stands a woman who has already made a very difficult decision. The same done by almost all driven, empowered women who have pursued their own dreams and climbed the career ladder.
Serena is still the most impactful tennis star of the 21st century and a celebrity who only goes by her first name. She has more wealth than many of us will ever see in our lifetime, just like her little Olympia. How many other 4-year-olds nap but are also co-owners of a sports franchise?
However, Serena is also a woman who had to ask herself what matters more: her sports career or her family?
She recognizes the inequity that exists in this issue. In Vogue’s September cover story, as Serena says “goodbye” to tennis, she laments that she wouldn’t have to choose between playing and growing her family if only she were a man.
Because if she were a man, she could go on like NBA role player Udonis Haslem, who at 42 still free agent offers fields ahead of what could be its 20th season. Or like 45-year-old Tom Brady, whom we praise because he wants to play until his kids graduate from medical school.
She will soon be the same age as Roger Federer, another tennis GOAT. But unlike Serena, he can make a comeback at 41 without having to weigh the impact it might have on his biological clock.
It’s not Father Time beating Serena. She doesn’t give up after winning 23 Grand Slams because her muscles or her serves can no longer withstand younger challengers. She evolves, that’s what she calls retirement.
But above all, she chooses plenitude. She evolves as a person, no longer one-way focused or consumed by the pursuit of singular success, and recognizes another part of greatness. The kind it takes to be present as a parent. She’s spent over 20 years chasing after titles, but that same passion she put into this stuff, she’s now going to dump on someone.
There have been signs of this development for years. It all started after Serena gave birth in 2017. The competition had always consumed her. She grunted, swore, screamed while winning her championships, but in the 2018 US Open final, her intensity had a bigger purpose.
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On the biggest tennis court in the world, Williams received a warning for receiving training and she became furious. She interpreted this as an assault on her character, and Olympia’s mother would have none of that.
His voice was firm but choppy, then it cracked. Her eyes hardened with rage, but only, it seemed, to stop the tears from rising. She demanded to be heard and seen, expecting the privileges that should have been granted to someone of her rank, until she had to acquiesce and continue playing.
“I have never cheated in my life,” she said, her voice cracking. “I have a daughter and I’m up [for] which is good for her and I’ve never cheated and you owe me an apology!
The scene unfolded for an uncomfortable amount of time. Even if she made points worthy of a mic drop – being penalized a game for calling the referee a ‘thief’ as the men hurled far worse insults for less punishment – she still would have could handle the situation better. Although some would say Serena was having a “crisis,” a deprecating word, by this time she was fully herself. The great tennis player and the new mom. It was Serena Williams, the completely flawed, completely relatable human.
Now Serena wants to expand her family and she knows she will have to hang up the racket to achieve this. While no man in her stratosphere faces that same choice, defining this as the end of Serena’s ambition would be incorrect. Its latest evolution shows strength and sacrifice, but also purpose and a greater understanding that having it all can also mean making room for more than yourself.
Because what would it matter to be an icon for so many fans if his own daughter had to find a role model outside her home? Olympia can sit in the owners’ suite for NWSL team Angel City FC, but she’ll enter pre-K holding her hero’s hand.
Yet Serena continues to be a trailblazer. She plans to grow her venture capital firm, her portfolio filled with businesses founded by women and people of color. She wants to have another child, and she could also give birth to the next black billionaire.
This transition from immortal to mom of two will be both difficult and familiar, which is why so many women and mothers can now see themselves in this new Serena. Handy labels never fit Serena, and neither did “retired athlete.” His legacy, like his image, will continue to evolve, only now he won’t be so untouchable.