Why Serena Williams' heartbreaking retirement essay is significant for all women

"Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair."

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"Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair."

In news today, tennis legend and Open record holder Serena Williams has announced that she's stepping away from the sport after 27 years of playing professionally.

In an essay for Vogue magazine, she shares her desire to "evolve" her career away from the sport (she's not keen on the word retirement), explaining that "something has to give" if she is to continue expanding her family.

The 40-year-old details her dream of having a second child - a sibling for her four-year-old, Olympia, - in her essay. But she also goes on to reflect that her career doesn't allow her to do both - a feeling women globally will know all too well.

“I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete - I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out." she shares. “Sometimes it's just not possible to achieve all your work and family goals at the same time. I'm going to miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis."

She explains: "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. But I’m turning 41 this month, and something’s got to give."

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Continuing to explain how difficult the decision has been for her, she shares: "I’ve been reluctant to admit that I have to move on from playing tennis. It’s like a taboo topic. It comes up, and I start to cry. I think the only person I’ve really gone there with is my therapist."

The athlete currently holds more medals than most, with a casual 23 Grand Slam titles and four Olympic gold medals under her belt.

But her poignant first person - where she explains why she's moving away from the sport that's shaped her life, legacy and career - is heartbreaking. It highlights the choice too many women are forced to make - of family or career.

This issue doesn't just affect women in sport - it affects all women, in all walks of life. Being forced to make a decision between having a family and progressing your career simply shouldn't happen - but, in reality, still is.

Bravo to Williams for raising awareness of the topic and further demonstrating that even global mega-stars face the same conundrums.

Wishing her all the best in her evolution.

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.