A Mother’s Choice: Serena Williams Steps off the Court

The queen of the court is the queen of her family


In one of her last professional games, Serena Williams won her first two rounds of the US Open in August 2022.

On Monday, August 29, 2022, with memories, music, and thousands of fans waiting in anticipation, Serena Williams played her first tennis match of what could be her last-ever United States Open at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, New York. In 1997, the year the stadium opened, Venus Williams made her first appearance in a United States Open Final. And just two years later, her younger sister and commonly referred to as the greatest tennis player of all time (GOAT), Serena Williams, won her first grand slam title at the age of 17.

Williams, now 41, wants to focus on growing her family and after 27 years of playing professionally, has decided to step away from the court. Like many other women around the world, female athletes have to take time off to care for their children, and their pay is often reduced, so eventually, unlike male athletes, they have to make a decision between prioritizing raising their family or prioritizing their career advancement. Her retirement is the result of this decision between focuses; Serena Williams made a sacrifice, and that sacrifice was retiring from tennis and the community she influenced significantly.

In a maternity rights issue by The Boar, Serena Williams compared herself to Roger Federer, one of the best male tennis players in the world, by saying, “having a baby on the tennis tour is the most rebellious thing I could ever do” and that “It’s so unfair. [Federer] produced four babies and barely missed a tournament.” 

Despite being the top-ranked female tennis player for many years, on August 9, 2022, after 23 grand slam titles, Serena Williams announced her retirement from tennis in a Vogue article she wrote herself. She plans to spend more time growing and building her family and companies: Serena, a clothing brand; Serena Williams Jewelry; and Serena Ventures, a company that raises money to invest in new businesses. When Serena announced her retirement to her family, she told Time Magazine that her five-year-old daughter, Olympia, was the most excited. According to Time Magazine’s profile, Olympia has always wished to “be an older sister.” 

As depicted in the award-winning 2021 film King Richard a film walking through the hardships of the Williams family and their road to becoming professional tennis stars — Serena Williams and her family grew up in Compton, California. They often struggled to find nice, safe courts to play on. But, their pure drive for the sport opened many opportunities for their future. After several years of training with only their parents, they started taking lessons from Rick Macci, who described Serena and Venus in the Times Article, as players with “a rage, a burning desire that I’ve never seen in two little girls…And I haven’t seen to this day.” 

For almost two years, the Williams sisters stayed out of playing junior tournaments and King Richard implied that Richard Williams did not want his daughters to “burn out” early into their pro careers. Additionally, in an interview with Trans Sport Tennis, Richard says he didn’t want to expose his daughters to the “ugliness of junior tennis” either. However, this didn’t stop Serena. At just 14, on October 28, 1995, she made her professional debut at the Bell Challenge in Quebec City. Four years later, on September 11, 1999, she won her first grand slam title. 25 years later, and 23 grand slam titles later, she played what might be her last match ever on September 2, 2022. 

Because Williams has a young family, she finds it hard to focus on both tennis and home life. With a five-year-old, “tennis is a sacrifice,” as she wrote in Vogue, especially when deciding which to focus on. In the same article, she adds that she doesn’t want to focus on tennis partially or her family — both deserve her full attention. This isn’t often the case for male athletes pursuing professional sports careers.

When male athletes play professional sports, it’s a given that they will not take off extended periods of time away from games and physical activity while their families are growing. However, for women, months and months are dedicated to carrying and raising a newborn. When reflecting on her experience, Serena says in Vogue, “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.” 

Many women in general, lose their stable income when taking time off from their work to have and raise children. With this being said, many women, especially female athletes, wait until the final month to take maternity leave and have their babies. In Serena’s case, she still played in the major tournaments leading up to the final months of her pregnancy. At seven months pregnant, in 2017, Serena Williams won the Australian Open against her sister, Venus Williams. Her husband, Alexis Ohanian, described the stressful days up to the birth in the Times Magazine by saying, “Even though the doctor was like, ‘You’ve got to take it easy, 100° heat, yadda, yadda, yadda,’ Serena said, ‘I got this.’ As long as she was confident, I was confident.”

Serena’s experience with motherhood as a professional athlete has echoes in other arenas. Athletic Director Coach Paula Conway shared an experience she had with a previous employer. At the time, her kids were very young so when an administrator expressed it was going to be tough for her to raise her kids and focus on the job she said, “‘Well that doesn’t really matter. I know my kids are young and need me, but it’s a professional goal, and they’ll learn to adapt and adjust.” Coach Conway’s story relates to Williams’ in many ways, but even the GOAT has to decide what she needs to fully focus on. Her work inspired many female athletes and women in sports to take on the labor it takes to multitask as a mother and athlete, as shown by Coach Conway today.

For female athletes and tennis players in general, Serena expressed that “I’d like to think that thanks to me, women athletes can be themselves. They can play with aggression and pump their fists. They can wear what they want and say what they want and kick butt and be proud of it all.” Despite retiring from tennis, after 27 years, she has inspired young female tennis players to feel free to express themselves with their own identities. Her career lives on and she continues to empower female athletes and all women.