Serena Williams criticises gender imbalance in sports as she retires from tennis to focus on family: ‘I don’t think it’s fair’

Serena Williams covers Vogue Magazine's September 2022 issue. (Vogue/Luis Alberto Rodriguez)
Serena Williams covers Vogue Magazine's September 2022 issue. (Vogue/Luis Alberto Rodriguez)

Serena Williams has addressed the struggle to maintain a work/life balance as a woman in an open letter, revealing she’s stepping down from professional tennis to focus on her daughter and expanding her family.

“I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete,” 40-year-old Williams, who has a four-year-old daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. with husband Alexis Ohanian, wrote in the Vogue article.

Williams appeared on the cover of the publication with her child, known as Olympia, hiding behind her long, blue Balenciaga dress train.

The athlete details the lengthy and difficult process which led her to ultimately “have to” retire from professional tennis this year.

“These days, if I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter,” she penned.

The difficult decision has, in part, been down to three factors, she writes: expanding her family; the difficulties faced as a woman in sport; and the struggle to maintain a work/life balance.

Serena Williams retires vogue magazine
Serena Williams appears on the cover of Vogue magazine with her daughter, Olympia, four. (Luis Alberto Rodriguez/Vogue)
Serena Williams retires vogue magazine
Serena Williams wears a Danielle Frankel gown. (Luis Alberto Rodriguez/Vogue)

Since winning her first major singles title at the U.S. Open in 1999, Williams has gone on to win 23 Grand Slam titles — a record for any player, male or female, in the Open era — and a further 50 major titles in her singles career.

“I have never liked the word retirement,” she writes. “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 started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm, in 2018, and started her family in 2017. “I want to grow that family,” she wrote.

But as much as she looks forward to her future away from the sport that has been her life for the past 35 years, the decision to step away from her career as an athlete has not been easy.

"There comes a time in life when we have to decide to move in a different direction," Williams wrote in an Instagram post. "That time is always hard when you love something so much."

"But now, the countdown has begun," she added. "I have to focus on being a mom, my spiritual goals and finally discovering a different, but just exciting Serena."

On having more children

Williams' decision to leave tennis largely comes down to her desire to focus on her family, both on raising Olympia and being present in her life and a desire to have a second child.

Williams admits she wasn’t sure whether she would have kids earlier in her career but when it comes to her daughter Olympia, “nothing is a sacrifice”.

“It all just makes sense,” she adds. “I want to teach her how to tie her shoes, how to read, where babies come from, and about God. Just like my mom [sic] taught me.”

However, tennis, by comparison, has always “felt like a sacrifice” for Williams, although it was one she enjoyed.

Serena Williams with her daughter Alexis Olympia
Serena Williams with her daughter Alexis Olympia after her win against Jessica Pegula in the women's singles final at the Auckland Classic tennis tournament in 2020. (Getty Images)

Olympia has been asking for a baby sister, in recent months, which has prompted Williams and her husband to think about the future of their family. “I’m the youngest of five sisters myself,” she writes, “and my sisters are my heroes, so this has felt like a moment I need to listen very carefully to.”

With Olympia, Williams didn’t slow down during her pregnancy. She was two months pregnant when she won the Australian Open (her seventh tournament title) in 2017. This time however, whenever they do add to their family, Williams does not want to be playing tennis.

“I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete,” she wrote. “I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.”

On why women have it tougher than men

Williams said she faced a common problem many mothers have: choosing between their career and children. “I don’t think it’s fair," she writes.

“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,” she added. “Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity.”

“Don’t get me wrong: I love being a woman, and I loved every second of being pregnant with Olympia.” she wrote. “But I’m turning 41 this month, and something’s got to give.”

Serena Williams retires vogue magazine
Serena Williams wears Sergio Hudson dress and Fernando Jorge earrings. (Vogue/Luis Alberto Rodriguez)

On accepting you can’t have it all as a woman

The letter appears to be written to both the reader and herself, specifically the parts of Williams that she feels she has to leave behind to focus on her role as a mother in her family.

“I’ve been reluctant to admit to myself or anyone else that I have to move on from playing tennis,” she wrote “I know that a lot of people are excited about and look forward to retiring, and I really wish I felt that way.”

Serena Williams retires vogue magazine
Serena Williams wears Ralph Lauren Collection dress. (Vogue/Luis Alberto Rodriguez)

Williams references Ashleigh Barty, world number one who retired in March, and Caroline Wozniacki, one of Williams’ best friends, who “felt a sense of relief when she retired in 2020.”

“This sport has given me so much,” she adds. “I love to win. I love the battle. I love to entertain. I’m not sure every player sees it that way, but I love the performance aspect of it – to be able to entertain people week after week.”

“I’m going to miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis,” she writes. “And I’m going to miss you.”

Vogue's September 2022 issue is available on newsstands nationwide on August 16th.

Watch: Serena Williams announces her retirement from tennis