Less than three weeks since her US Open (presumed) farewell, Serena Williams is stoking the embers of speculation about a possible comeback to the sport – not unlike Tom Brady’s unretirement earlier this year, which came just 39 days after he made the shocking announcement of his retirement from the NFL in January.
Speaking to Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show last week, Serena teased a return to the sport. Mr. Fallon, putting the Brady example before her, cheekily asked if she might “evolve into coming back and playing Pickleball.”
Williams’ response was coy to say the least. “You know what? Tom Brady started an amazing trend,” she said. Later, Williams also reminded Fallon and viewers alike that she’d “never uttered the word retirement.”
“Tom Brady started an amazing trend. That’s what I want to say.”
— The Tonight Show (@FallonTonight) September 14, 2022
“What I want to say is that you never know,” added Serena. “I talked to Tom Brady about his story. I don’t see myself away from tennis, which has given me so much. I would like to do something but I don’t know what, I would like to stay connected to this wonderful sport. It has simply been a light in my life and I want to continue to hold on to it.”
Back in August, Williams penned an article for Vogue magazine in which she mused about an impending retirement after the US Open. Though she refrained from actually using the word “retirement,” choosing instead to refer to the next stage of her life as an “evolution” from tennis, there was no mistaking (then) the word’s meaning or its implications.
“I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me,” wrote Williams, citing the venture capital firm Serena Ventures and a desire to expand her family as motivating factors.
Since the start of the pandemic. Serena saw limited action on the WTA Tour and, after a hamstring injury cut her 2021 Wimbledon Championships campaign short, she was sidelined for an entire year.
Serena made her belated comeback at this year’s Wimbledon Championships, but her run there ended abruptly in a first-round upset by Harmony Tan, a player that ranked outside of the top 100.
In the lead-up to the US Open, she lost both her opening matches in Toronto and Cincinnati, raising serious doubts about both her ability to compete and match fitness. As such, few expected Serena to go deep at Flushing Meadows. In fact, she went into the tournament as a longshot bet to win the title according to pre-tournament tennis betting odds.
When she did, however, win her first two matches, beating then-world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit in the second round no less, nobody was surprised. She was after all Serena. A legend.
Alas, her dream run ended a couple of days later, in the third round against Alja Tomljanovic on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion fought valiantly until the last point, staving off five match points to prolong the three-hour-plus thriller, but despite her best efforts and the unwavering crowd support, she ultimately conceded defeat, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1.
“Serena Williams bids farewell at US Open” https://t.co/MD0D6vgWpE
— MD Fashion Collections (@DawoduModele) September 19, 2022
Will Serena pull a Tom Brady by unretiring or “unevolving” (if that’s not a word, consider it created) herself?
If Brady’s unretirement is an example, then the lesson never says never.
The potential of Serena’s unretirement has an element of sentimentality about it, a desire to perpetuate the golden era of tennis for a little bit longer. Yet, it’s not an unreasonable proposition either.
With barely a handful of matches under her belt, Serena was still able to defeat the world No. 2 in her run to the R32 of the US Open. That’s nothing to sniff at.
Moreover, her game improved with each passing match, raising a series of what-ifs. What if Serena had played more tournaments before the US Open? What if she’d started her comeback this year sooner? What if …
Serena’s best Grand Slam results came at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, where she picked up seven titles in each event. Her last Grand Slam triumph was Down Under in 2017, when she beat sister Venus Willaims in the final – while pregnant with her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, as was revealed later.
In the last few years of her career, Serena was chasing Australian Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles. She reached four Grand Slam finals in 2017, but all four opportunities went begging. She lost all four finals – twice at Wimbledon and twice at the US Open – thus staying one behind the Aussie.
The 2023 Australian Open is four months away … watch this space.