Serena Williams' 2022 retirement, from a former pro tennis player


Work until your idols become your rivals — or your work is covering your idols.

Serena Williams was who I aspired to be as a young girl growing up on Long Island, N.Y. On the tennis court, she was fierce, relentless, and courageous – unforgivingly, Serena. 

Thanks to so many invaluable skills Serena taught me on and off the court, I was able to live out many of my tennis dreams, reaching the No. 1 collegiate tennis player in the nation while playing for the University of Virginia before going on to play professionally. 

One moment that will stick with me forever was playing at the 2012 Jr. U.S. Open on Court 6 -- I got to be within inches of Serena, who was playing in front of thousands of diehard fans at a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium.

I could barely hear the ball I was striking on my own court.

It hit me at that moment, my idol is slowly becoming my rival, but I say that VERY loosely. Let’s face it, Serena is Serena. She will always be better than everyone. She is the all-time greatest athlete in the history of any sport, male or female.

When the GOAT announced her farewell in August, I was filled with emotions as I sat at my desk at the iconic 30 Rockefeller Plaza. To say my heart dropped is an understatement – and it’s not because I didn’t see it coming, but because it actually happened.

In this moment, the only positive spin I could put on this breaking news was the knowledge that Serena and I would both be making a homecoming of sorts to the U.S. Open. She would be making her farewell and I would be making an introduction.

Instead of playing, I would be covering one of the biggest sports moments in the world for NBC. 

Serena’s last U.S Open was the sports moment of the year

It was the 2022 Serena Williams Open, and we all loved it.

All day, every day during the two-week event in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., people were chanting “SERENA!” around the grounds, at the food court and at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

It was also impressive how creative fans got in producing homemade Serena gear, traveling from all over the world to cheer the GOAT on in her last tennis tournament. 

There is no doubt that the crowd favorite was feeling all kinds of pressure heading into the last U.S. Open of her career but she always believed that pressure is a privilege because it only comes to those who earn it. 

Serena never saw being the top seed of a tournament as a curse, or having a higher ranking than an opponent as a disadvantage. It was a blessing.

I truly think that if it were at any other tournament around the whole world, Serena wouldn’t have won two matches as she didn’t look her fittest physically and her game wasn’t as sharp as it usually is. The New York crowd, however, pulled her over the hump. The New York crowd did everything it could to keep her from retirement.

When Serena fell to Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round, it was an emotional night in the Big Apple. Fans were visibly gutted and the internet was flooded with kind messages about the GOAT’s legendary career. 

The next day at the U.S. Open was sad, quiet and empty. Especially the media room, which went from max capacity to five or six chairs between reporters at their computers. 

The 2022 U.S. Open will always be remembered as Serena’s year. It was the year tennis fans got to witness her full circle moment – winning her first Grand Slam in New York in 1999 and then saying goodbye to her at the same place 23 years later.

Serena is “evolving” away from tennis, not retiring

The average, non-tennis player probably thinks this was an odd way for Serena to announce her next chapter, however, I felt like I knew exactly what this meant the second I saw it.

To me, “evolving away” is a softer, less committed way to say you’re retiring from tennis with the option to return to the sport any day. To Serena, it means “no work before 10 a.m.,” which also sounds nice. 

Tennis becomes your identity. I don’t think this happens in all sports, but with the nature of tennis being a solo sport, all players are susceptible. 

Tennis players travel alone (unless they make bank and can afford to travel with a team), do not play under a contract – meaning payment only comes if they win – and are not allowed to be coached during competition, leaving all the pressure and stress on athletes. 

These are a few reasons that tennis becomes part of a tennis player’s DNA. 

Serena did not want an aggressive “ceremonial, final on-court moment” because she says she is “terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst.”

The way the U.S. Open gave the tennis star a farewell celebration on court right after her first round win was handled perfectly, giving Serena a smooth, light-hearted moment of appreciation and reflection. 

As for the million dollar question: Is Serena done with tennis for good? No, I think she will be back on the tennis court in some capacity, if not playing professionally in 2023. 

Serena’s significant impact on women

Serena’s impact on and off the tennis court has been absolutely tremendous.

As a young girl, growing up to become a serious tennis player, I quickly developed muscle definition and I did not fit into skinny jeans the way my classmates did. I was so insecure about it because realistically, I was stronger than most of the boys in my middle school classes. 

Honestly, most players on the pro tour looked like Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova: tall, skinny and very feminine. I wanted to look like her, but it wasn’t in my genetics. 

But Serena normalized having an athletic build as a female and showed the world that muscles are beautiful.

Going off of strong physicality, Serena normalized first-pumping on the tennis court, cheering for accomplishments and being competitive when in the past it was considered loud or masculine. 

I was one of those players that got ultra amped up when I won a big point or match, but I felt a bit self-conscious about it – especially when playing tennis around men because I didn’t want to be perceived as masculine. 

How crazy, right? Serena never thought like that. She’s a woman and was proud to celebrate her wins – unforgivingly.

Another significant milestone Serena had to endure is a complicated pregnancy. 

After having a C-section in 2017 to birth Olympia, doctors found a large hematoma in her abdomen. 

In a letter Serena wrote about her childbirth experience, she said "thousands of women struggle to give birth in the poorest countries," but many times those women don't have the resources like "drugs, health facilities or doctors to save them."

"Before they even bring a new life into this world, the cards are already stacked against them," she added.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women in the U.S. are over three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications.

In the letter, Serena brings these tragic statistics to light and reflects ways women and their babies can be protected. By sharing her story, she shows that even the most famous, rich and respected athletes can endure hardships. 

“Every mother, everywhere, regardless of race or background deserves to have a healthy pregnancy and birth,” Serena concluded her letter.

The sports world is better because of Serena Williams

There is no doubt that the sports world will miss the four-time Olympic gold medalist immensely but tennis is in a better spot now than it would have been without the Serena era. 

Naomi Osaka leads active players with the most Grand Slam titles on the WTA Tour with four. Iga Swiatek sits right behind her with three. This gives girls and women across the globe so much to strive for in the decades to come – Serena has set the bar so high! 

All of this is to say: Women's sports are at a very exciting crossroads. 

The future is bright for up-and-coming women, such as Osaka and Swiatek who have had some nice successes. Also on the verge of breaking through this decade are Ons Jabeur, Jessica Pegula, Caroline Garcia and Maria Sakkari.

What will any of these young stars' legacies be when they call it a career? Certainly, comparing anyone to Williams seems unfair. And yet, we are guaranteed to see a transcendent force similar to her again -- not exactly a carbon copy but someone that captivates us to say, "I remember when." 

In 2022, that sensation repeats itself whenever I hear Serena's name or think back to covering the U.S. Open. 

Sure, I miss playing, but documenting history are shoes I'm growing very comfortable in. Thank you, Serena, for impacting me on and off the court.

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