Mike McIntyre (@McIntyreTennis) is the co-host of Match Point Canada, the official podcast of Tennis Canada.
The world woke up Tuesday morning to major news from 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who in a cover article for the September issue of Vogue Magazine entitled, “Serena’s Farewell” has announced her upcoming retirement from being a professional tennis player. After a career spanning over two decades, Serena is ready to start “evolving away from tennis,” as she describes it.
One of the primary reasons that the star cited for hanging up the racquet is that her and husband Alexis Ohanian would like to grow their family if possible to provide their daughter Olympia with a little brother or sister, as their five year old has been eagerly asking her parents for a sibling in recent months.
“I’m the youngest of five sisters myself, and my sisters are my heroes, so this has felt like a moment I need to listen very carefully to,” Serena said in the article.
Although many would have loved to see Serena tie, if not surpass, Margaret Court, who holds 24 Major titles compared to her 23, it seemed ever unlikely that the accomplishment would come to pass. A serious hamstring injury suffered at Wimbledon in 2021 took the American legend off the court for an entire year, with her returning to action only a few weeks ago at the All-England Club. There she fell in the opening round in three sets looking understandably like a player who still had a lot of rust to shake off.
National Bank Open tournament director Karl Hale told me he was pleasantly surprised when he got word from Serena’s long time agent Jill Smoller that she was returning to the WTA Tour this summer and that Toronto – one of her favourite cities – was one of the intended destinations. Still, at that point in time nobody knew how much longer her return to the sport would last or when the soon to be 41 year old would decide enough was enough.
In her opening round match Monday at Sobeys Stadium, Serena looked to have made significant strides from her showing at Wimbledon. Her movement was better, her forehand was at times reminiscent of that lethal stroke that has helped her achieve so much in the sport and her first serve, though not as consistent, found the mark with 7 aces and reminded us of how precise and powerful it can be.
The win was her first since Roland Garros in May of 2021 and was also the first hard court match she had played since the Australian Open in January of that same year. As some have remarked, it was also the first win of her forties and Serena admitted after the match that she was starting to see the end of the road in terms of her career in tennis.
In hindsight perhaps we should have seen through the humour of the following exchange in her post match press conference Monday in Toronto:
Serena Williams: I guess there’s just a light at the end of the tunnel (laughter) I’m getting closer to the light…lately that’s been it for me, I can’t wait to get to that light.
Question: I know you’re joking, but can you –
Serena Williams: I’m not joking.
Any interpretation on what her comments meant became crystal clear Tuesday morning when Serena shared her Vogue article on her social media platforms. The champ is ready to call it a career and we’ve been so fortunate to watch it over the past twenty-five years.
For Canadian tennis fans there have been plenty of memorable moments from the legend over that time. Her first National Bank Open title came all the way back in 2001 where she beat Monica Seles in the semifinals and then Jennifer Capriati in the championship match. She hoisted the trophy twice more in Toronto in both 2011 and 2013.
Her last appearance prior to this year was in 2019 when sadly she could not finish the finals against Bianca Andreescu due to a back injury. The unfortunate reality that one’s body cannot indefinitely withstand the daily grind of professional competition was beginning to set in for Serena.
So here we are, with Canadian tennis fans having one last opportunity to say goodbye to the legend when she plays what could be her final National Bank Open match Wednesday night in Toronto on Centre Court. Her likely opponent is our 2015 champion Belinda Bencic so it certainly won’t be easy. But with a full crowd undoubtedly supporting Serena, who knows what’s possible before she walks off on her own terms and on to some well-deserved new challenges in her life.