This morning my daughter, Olympia, who will be five this month, and I were on our way to get her a new passport before a trip to Europe. We’re in my car, and she’s holding my phone, using an interactive educational app she likes. This robot voice asks him a question: what do you want to be when you grow up? She doesn’t know I’m listening to her, but I can hear the answer she’s whispering into the phone. She says, “I want to be a big sister.”
Olympia says it often, even when she knows I’m listening. Sometimes, before going to bed, she prays to Jehovah to bring her a little sister. (She wants nothing to do with a boy!) I myself am the youngest of five sisters, and my sisters are my heroines, so this is a moment I have to listen to very carefully.
Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think that’s fair. If I was a man, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife did the physical labor to expand our family. 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. I was one of those boring women who loved being pregnant and working until the day I had to show up at the hospital, even though things got super complicated on the other side. And I almost did the impossible: A lot of people don’t realize I was two months pregnant when I won the Australian Open in 2017. But I’m 41 this month, and something has to give.
I never liked the word retirement. That doesn’t sound like a modern word to me. I thought of it as a transition, but I want to be sensitive to how I use this word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Maybe the best word to describe what I do is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, towards other things that are important to me. A few years ago, I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after, I started a family. I want to expand this family.
But I was hesitant to admit to myself or anyone else that I have to stop playing tennis. Alexis, my husband and I barely talked about it; it’s like a taboo subject. 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’s going up, I have an uncomfortable lump in my throat and I’m starting to cry. The only person I really went with was my therapist! One thing I’m not going to do is water it down. I know a lot of people are excited to retire and can’t wait to retire, and I would really like to feel that. Ashleigh Barty was world number one when she left the sport in March, and I think she felt really ready to move on. Caroline Wozniacki, who is one of my best friends, felt relief when she retired in 2020.