Serena Williams is taking the next step in her evolution, announcing that she’ll soon be moving on from tennis to focus on her family.
“I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me,” she wrote in a piece for Vogue. “But I’ve been reluctant to admit to myself or anyone else that I have to move on from playing tennis.”
The 40-year-old athlete reflected on her career and her upbringing in the sport of tennis, crediting her parents and her sister Venus Williams for molding her into the player she has become. “If I hadn’t been in Venus’s shadow, I would never be who I am. When someone said I was just the little sister, that’s when I got really fired up,” Williams wrote. “To me that’s kind of the essence of being Serena: expecting the best from myself and proving people wrong. There were so many matches I won because something made me angry or someone counted me out. That drove me. I’ve built a career on channeling anger and negativity and turning it into something good.”
Still, the perfection that she strived for her in career took a toll on her personal life. She even shared that she “never thought about having kids” as a younger athlete and wasn’t sure it was a fit for her lifestyle.
“I was never that confident or comfortable around babies or children, and I figured that if I ever did have a baby, I would have people taking care of it 24/7,” she wrote. “I’m not going to lie—I definitely have a lot of support. But I’m also an incredibly hands-on mother. My husband will tell you I am too hands-on. In five years, Olympia has only spent one 24-hour period away from me.”
She continued, “The fact is that nothing is a sacrifice for me when it comes to Olympia. It all just makes sense.”
Serena has been open about the difficulty that she faced when she gave birth to her daughter, who she shares with husband Alexis Ohanian, in 2017. A five-part HBO documentary titled Being Serena even chronicled her tough transition of returning to tennis after that experience. Ultimately, she recognized that “tennis, by comparison [to taking care of her family], has always felt like a sacrifice.”
“The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus grand slams. I had my chances after coming back from giving birth. I went from a C-section to a second pulmonary embolism to a grand slam final. I played while breastfeeding. I played through postpartum depression. But I didn’t get there,” she wrote in Vogue. “Shoulda, woulda, coulda. I didn’t show up the way I should have or could have. But I showed up 23 times, and that’s fine. Actually it’s extraordinary. But these days, if I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter.”
She also revealed that she and her husband have recently “been trying to have another child” and received hopeful news from her doctor that they’re ready to add to their family. “I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete,” she said. “I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.”
Their daughter, Olympia, also wants “to be a big sister.”
Williams didn’t neglect to point out that the tough decision is one that she was uniquely faced with as a female athlete.
“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair. 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. Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity,” she wrote. “Don’t get me wrong: I love being a woman, and I loved every second of being pregnant with Olympia. I was one of those annoying women who adored being pregnant and was working until the day I had to report to the hospital—although things got super complicated on the other side. And I almost did do the impossible: A lot of people don’t realize that I was two months pregnant when I won the Australian Open in 2017. But I’m turning 41 [in September], and something’s got to give.”
While Williams shared that she’s reluctant to think about her legacy, she hopes to have made a difference for future female athletes.
“I’d like to think that thanks to opportunities afforded to me, women athletes feel that they can be themselves on the court. They can play with aggression and pump their fists. They can be strong yet beautiful. They can wear what they want and say what they want and kick butt and be proud of it all,” she wrote. “I’d like it to be: Serena is this and she’s that and she was a great tennis player and she won those slams.”
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life’s newsletter. Sign up here.