Serena Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, revealed in a magazine essay published Tuesday her intentions to step away from the sport after the U.S. Open.
The 40-year-old will walk away from the sport with 23 Grand Slam titles – the most in the Open Era and second most all-time behind Margaret Court. She will get one more chance to tie the court’s record. She lost in the first round of Wimbledon earlier in the summer.
"I’ve been reluctant to admit to myself or anyone else that I have to move on from playing tennis. Alexis, my husband, and I have hardly talked about it; it’s like a taboo topic," Williams wrote in Vogue.
"I can’t even have this conversation with my mom and dad. It’s like it’s not real until you say it out loud. It comes up, I get an uncomfortable lump in my throat, and I start to cry. The only person I’ve really gone there with is my therapist! One thing I’m not going to do is sugarcoat this. I know that a lot of people are excited about and look forward to retiring, and I really wish I felt that way.
Williams admitted in the essay that there was no "happiness" in making the announcement, but she was ready for "what’s next."
"There is no happiness in this topic for me," she wrote. "I know it’s not the usual thing to say, but I feel a great deal of pain. It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine. I hate it. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I keep saying to myself, I wish it could be easy for me, but it’s not. I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next."
Of the record, Williams wrote she’d be "lying" if she didn’t say she wanted to get to court’s record.
"I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her. If I’m in a grand slam final, then yes, I am thinking about that record. Maybe I thought about it too much, and that didn’t help. The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus grand slams," she added.
But she wrote that after all the things she went through in and after childbirth, she would choose building her family over building her tennis resume.
Williams sought the advice of Tiger Woods, who has tried to play through the back end of his career in the middle of recovering from a severe leg injury. She said Woods told her, "Serena, what if you just gave it two weeks? You don’t have to commit to anything. You just go out on the court every day for two weeks and give it your all and see what happens,"
Williams wrote she gave it a month before picking up a racket again and eventually made it back to Wimbledon.
"Unfortunately I wasn’t ready to win Wimbledon this year. And I don’t know if I will be ready to win New York. But I’m going to try," Williams wrote. "And the lead-up tournaments will be fun. I know there’s a fan fantasy that I might have tied Margaret that day in London, then maybe beat her record in New York, and then at the trophy ceremony say, ‘See ya!’ I get that. It’s a good fantasy. But I’m not looking for some ceremonial, final on-court moment. I’m terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst. But please know that I am more grateful for you than I can ever express in words. You have carried me to so many wins and so many trophies. I’m going to miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis. And I’m going to miss you."
The U.S. Open is set for Aug. 29 and will end on Sept. 11.