Is Serena Williams Retiring? An Overview of Her Tennis Legacy and Her Life Outside the Court

After a second loss to her rival Naomi Osaka, there is increasing public speculation as to whether or not she will retire.

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Edwin Martinez / Wikipedia Creative Commons

Serena Williams prepares to serve during 2013 U.S. Open. Williams’ competitive nature has helped her to play her best on the court, but it has also added pressure on her to achieve and to break world records, which may affect her performance.

When Serena Williams lost to Naomi Osaka at the 2021 Women’s Australian Open, Williams congratulated her and left the tennis court teary-eyed and waving gracefully. The loss was a painful one for Williams — during the match, she became fatigued, grunting through her exhaustion. She yelled to herself “make a shot!” after failing to return several. At the press conference, reporters barraged her with questions about whether this second loss to Osaka would signal the end of her career. This loss reminded many of Williams’ first loss to Osaka at the 2018 U.S. Open.

During the past year, Williams has spent time resting, but the tennis world has increased the pressure on her to return. Currently, she is just two wins short of having 25 Grand Slam titles, which would put her ahead of former tennis player Margaret Court, who reached 24 Grand Slam titles, the current record, in the 1970s. Such an accomplishment would make Williams the best female tennis player of all time. This year, she missed out on the opportunity to grab a 24th title in the 2021 Australian Open, her 4th consecutive Grand Slam loss since the 2018 Wimbledon. “Some might never [be as good as] they once were, and now that Serena is no longer an up-and-coming player like Naomi Osaka or Coco Gauff, it might be harder for her to find that momentum,” said Sydney Siskind ’23.

Since Williams is focusing more on motherhood, she has learned to enjoy life outside of tennis. Having her daughter Olympia seemed to take some pressure off from being a world-renowned tennis player. In a 2018 Vogue interview Williams stated, “Having Olympia has made me realize that I want the [tennis] money and prizes, but I don’t need them.” Williams also said in her Vogue interview that Olympia has inspired her to become a better tennis player and has made playing tennis more meaningful.

In a white-male dominated sport, Williams has had to overcome a unique set of challenges in order to excel and prosper. As a woman, motherhood has taken a toll on her body and has prompted her to take time off to care for her baby. Williams had a particularly tough pregnancy — she experienced a pulmonary embolism, which is when blood clots develop in the arteries leading to the lungs, obstructing breathing. Her feet constantly became swollen, hindering her ability to play tennis. In her opinion piece for CNN, she wrote that she notified nurses and doctors because she was in pain and short of breath, but received delayed treatment. She also expressed frustration at the racial inequalities in the healthcare system, discussing how Black women are more than three times likelier to die from childbirth-related causes.  

Williams is one of the most recognized Black athletes in sports today, providing inspiration to many girls of color. However, being such a prominent Black female athlete has made her vulnerable to racial controversy. There has been negative press about her muscular body. Many female athletes pride their muscular stature, but that body type tends to collide with mainstream female beauty standards. 

Able to bounce back from a series of losses, Williams is more resilient than many think. In 2016, she lost both the Australian and French Open, but came back victorious in Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2017, a remarkable feat given the circumstances. “[Williams] winning Wimbledon while pregnant was a feat to how amazing women’s bodies can be, but it is still important to take note that giving birth is hard and is something many athletes need time to recover from,” said Siskind. Ever since she won her first Grand Slam in 1999, she has bounced back from a loss by garnering consecutive Grand Slam titles. Williams has accrued a streak of wins that are indicative of her strong mindset, talent, and tennis prowess.  

Despite her recent loss in the 2021 Australian Open, Williams has done more than enough to prove to fans that she is an impeccable tennis player. “Reaching the semi-finals was still nothing short of amazing. [Williams] has consistently shown her immense love for tennis and continues to compete at a very high level. Regardless of whether [she] will break Margaret Court’s grand slam record, it is clear that she has paved the way for countless female athletes, and she has already left a long-lasting legacy on the tennis community,” said Karen Phua ’21. 

By many, Williams is considered to be the ‘Greatest of All Time’ in tennis. She has won a historic number of Grand Slams and established an international reputation in spite of the challenges and criticism that she has faced. As an accomplished player, it is likely that Williams will not be leaving anytime soon. The last we will likely see of Williams is when she breaks the Grand Slam record and rewrites history.

“Reaching the semi-finals was still nothing short of amazing. [Williams] has consistently shown her immense love for tennis and continues to compete at a very high level. Regardless of whether [she] will break Margaret Court’s grand slam record, it is clear that she has paved the way for countless female athletes, and she has already left a long-lasting legacy on the tennis community,” said Karen Phua ’21. 

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