The talk of tennis — and beyond — for most of the past three weeks has been about Serena Williams and her announcement that she is planning to stop playing professional tennis.
That all leads up to the U.S. Open, the year’s last Grand Slam tournament, which began Monday, with Williams scheduled to play her first-round match in Arthur Ashe Stadium at night.
The Associated Press has chronicled the leadup to her departure in words and photos since her revelation earlier this month that she is preparing to “evolve” away from her career as a professional athlete. This guide offers a look at Williams the player and Williams the person, her accomplishments and her influence, as the 40-year-old American gets ready to shift her focus from serves and forehands to expanding her family and pursuing business interests.
Williams revealed her plans in an essay in Vogue magazine that was published Aug. 9. She didn’t give a timeline and didn’t even say she was retiring, but that she was “evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.”
Along with her business interests, Williams said she wanted to expand her family. She and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, have a daughter, Olympia, who turns 5 on Thursday.
“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair,” said Williams, who was pregnant when she won the 2017 Australian Open for her last Grand Slam trophy. “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.”
THE ON-COURT ACHIEVEMENTS
Williams’ 23 Grand Slam singles titles are the most in the professional era of tennis, which began in 1968. She won 73 tour-level singles titles and was ranked No. 1 for more than six years’ worth of weeks.
Her greatest success came at the U.S. Open, where her 106 victories were a tournament record. She has reached at least the semifinals in her last 11 appearances.
Williams also combined with older sister Venus for 14 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles and has won four Olympic gold medals.
THE OFF-COURT INSPIRATION
Williams’ impact on the Black community is indelible. Raised in Compton, California, she learned tennis on the public courts that are far from the privileged private clubs that nurtured most U.S. players. She was outspoken on issues such as gun violence.
Williams is also a fashion icon. She has appeared everywhere from magazine covers to red carpets, and “What’s Serena wearing?” was sometimes as big a question as “Who’s Serena playing?” at a tennis tournament.
She launched a fashion collection in 2018 after collaborations with HSN and Nike.
Many women thought of their own choices they faced in balancing family and career when Williams made her announcement. She was two months pregnant when she won her last major title but said she couldn’t be expectant and playing again.
THE RECENT MATCHES
Williams earned her only singles victory of the year on the day before her announcement, beating Nuria Parrizas-Diaz 6-3, 6-4 at the women’s National Bank Open in Toronto. She hadn’t won a singles match since the 2021 French Open.
Williams then was beat 6-2, 6-4 by Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic in her next match.
Williams had been off the tour since an injury in the first round of Wimbledon in 2021 and didn’t return until this year’s tournament, where she fell 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) to Harmony Tan in the first round.
After the Toronto tournament, Williams went on to lose 6-4, 6-0 to U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu in the Western & Southern Open.
Williams has been working with Rennae Stubbs, who won four Slam titles in women’s doubles, alongside coach Eric Hechtman, since last week. She practiced for about an hour inside Ashe on Saturday.
Later that day came news that even if she lost on Monday, Williams’ U.S. Open career wouldn’t be over quite yet. She and Venus accepted a wild card into the women’s doubles tournament.
The Williams sisters will play the Czech pair of Lucie Hradecka and Linda Noskova in the first round. They have won the U.S. Open twice and this will be their first tournament together since the 2018 French Open.
THE FIRST OPPONENT
Danka Kovinic said she is “honored” to be facing Williams under the bright lights of Ashe. The 27-year-old from Montenegro said she was happy to learn the news of the matchup after the U.S. Open draw was unveiled last week.
Ranked 80th in the world, Kovinic said she’s never gotten the courage to ask Williams to practice, nor had she ever even hit in the stadium that holds more than 23,000 fans before the tournament.
Kovinic is only 2-4 at the U.S. Open but she scored an impressive Grand Slam victory earlier this year when she beat Raducanu in the second round of the Australian Open.