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Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes of all time and a 23-time grand slam singles champion, has announced that she is retiring from professional tennis, indicating she could step away after the upcoming US Open.

In a column for Vogue, the 40-year-old Williams described her intention to finish her playing career as an “evolution” away from tennis. “I have never liked the word retirement,” she wrote. “Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.”

Williams has spent much of the past few years off the court preparing for the moment she decided to move on, including by setting up a venture capital company, Serena Ventures, and investing in various organisations. However, she explained that one of her biggest reasons for retirement is her intention to further expand her family. Williams gave birth to her first child, Alexis Olympia, in 2017.

“I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair,” Williams wrote. “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.”

Over the course of a historic career that has spanned nearly three decades since its beginnings on the public courts of Compton, California, Williams has won an Open era record of 23 grand slam singles titles, earning a total of $94,588,910 in prize money and much more in endorsements. Williams fell short of the all-time record of 24, a record of less importance, set by Margaret Court.

Despite the various outside interests that Williams has enjoyed since her youth, Williams has also consolidated one of the lengthiest careers of all time at the top level of the sport, behind only her 42-year-old sister, Venus. She has embarked on innumerable comebacks, including twice after suffering from life-threatening pulmonary embolisms.

Williams turned professional aged 14 in 1995 and was a teenage phenom, winning her first grand slam title aged 17 at the 1999 US Open. Despite the mileage in her legs now, Williams contrasted her feelings with the seemingly happy retirements of the 26-year-old Ashleigh Barty in March and the 32-year-old Caroline Wozniacki, her close friend, in 2020.

“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.”

Unlike many other greats, Williams’s success was not only limited to singles. She and her sister, Venus, also formed one of the greatest ever doubles partnerships, winning 14 grand slam women’s doubles titles despite playing a limited doubles schedule. She has additionally won four Olympic gold medals, three of them in doubles, and two mixed doubles grand slam titles in 1998.

Their achievements carry even greater significance considering what they represent as the first female African American grand slam champions since Althea Gibson in 1958. They have both dominated a predominantly white, upper class and prohibitively expensive sport. Williams’ serve, power and athleticism have driven her success, but as has her intelligence, problem solving ability and her mentality.

In her lengthy, emotional essay in Vogue, Williams explained that, after injuring her hamstring at Wimbledon last year and taking a year away from the sport, she was unsure about ever returning. A discussion with legendary golfer Tiger Woods led her back to the practice courts, which she enjoyed enough to begin a full comeback. Williams made her singles return at Wimbledon in June, losing in the first round to France’s Harmony Tan.

This week Williams is competing at the National Bank Open in Toronto, where on Monday she defeated Nuria Parrizas-Diaz 6-3, 6-4 to win her first singles match since June 2021. After Canada, she is scheduled to compete at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, followed by the US Open which begins at the end of August.

Despite explaining her reasons for moving on from the sport in striking depth, Williams did not did not explicitly state that she will definitely retire at the US Open. The endpoint, however, is clearly in sight. “My goodness do I enjoy tennis,” she wrote. “But now, the countdown has begun. I have to focus on being a mom, my spiritual goals and finally discovering a different, but just exciting Serena. I’m gonna relish these next few weeks.”