For Serena Williams, Tennis — Not Motherhood — Was a Sacrifice

Tennis is a uniquely grueling sport for new parents. Much of the calendar year is considered in season, and much of that season is spent crisscrossing the globe for tournaments.

But returning to the biggest stages in the world did not seem to be much of a question for Williams. “I went from a C-section to a second pulmonary embolism to a Grand Slam final. I played while breastfeeding. I played through postpartum depression,” she wrote. She reached her 10th Wimbledon final in July 2018, less than a year after childbirth.

Williams’s daughter hasn’t been far from the stands since. There’s Olympia at the Fed Cup, sporting a red-and-white headband with a glitter bow. And at the ASB classic, sitting on her dad’s lap, clapping, eager to see what shiny trophy Mom has this time. At the Top Seed Open, she was spotted in the stands, a bit distracted by an iPhone (happens to the best of us). And she had a front-row seat to the U.S. Open bubble of 2020, pointing and saying “mama” in a nearly empty stadium.

In the past five years, Williams said, she has not spent more than 24 hours away from her daughter.

But Williams made one thing clear. Her evolution (retirement, she said, is not a word she likes to use) is not an easy decision; it’s not one she’s been able to talk about with anyone other than her therapist. This is not a simple ride into the sunset. No, it’s a more difficult decision — one that she really didn’t want to make.

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

That’s the case for 36-year-old Rafael Nadal. He announced that his wife, Maria Francisca Perello, is pregnant with their first child. In a news conference in June, Nadal, the winner of 22 Grand Slam singles titles, said, “I don’t think it will change my professional life.”

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