Tennis legend Serena Williams has announced her retirement. In an essay for Vogue, she says that she is planning to step away from the sport after participating in the U.S. Open in New York this summer.
She plans to focus on her family and other business ventures, though she would prefer you not use the “r” word. It’s more of an evolution, she says.
“I have never liked the word retirement,” she writes. “It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me. A few years ago I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, I started a family. I want to grow that family.”
In 2017, Williams had a daughter, Olympia, with her husband Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit. While pregnant, she participated in the Australia Open, winning a Grand Slam victory. “I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete,” she writes. “I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.”
Williams is often called not just the greatest tennis player of all time, but the greatest athlete of all time, period. She won her first U.S. Open in 1999, when she was just 17 years old. She went on to win the most Grand Slam singles titles during the Open Era, and she’s won four Olympic gold medals, including three doubles with her sister Venus Williams, a joint record. She’s also won 14 women’s doubles titles with her sister, another record. The pair are also unbeaten in Grand Slam doubles finals.
Serena and Venus Williams’ early life was dramatized in last year’s film “King Richard,” which earned six Oscar nominations. Will Smith won an Oscar for portraying their demanding father Richard Williams. Both sisters served as Executive Producers of the film.
“I’m terrible at goodbyes, the world’s worst,” Williams wrote. “But please know that I am more grateful for you than I can ever express in words. You have carried me to so many wins and so many trophies. I’m going to miss that version of me, that girl who played tennis. And I’m going to miss you.”
Williams is the highest-paid athlete of all time, and Forbes has referred to her as “One of America’s Richest Self-Made Women.”
So upon the occasion of her next step, let’s take a look back to see how she built her fortune.
Her Tennis Career
According to Forbes, Williams has earned a career total of $94.6 million in prize money from the Women's Tennis Association. This is twice as much as any other female athlete has ever made. The runner up to this title is Venus, who has won $42 million in prize money.
Williams has slowed down a bit in recent years, following the birth of her daughter and the physical toil common to professional athletes. Since 2015, she usually does no more than eight tournaments a year. In 2021, she slipped on the centre court grass in the opening set of Wimbleton and tore her hamstring. She then skipped the US Open as well as this year’s Australia Open.
She currently playing at the Canadian Open, where she won her first match in 14 months. She is also set to play the Western & Southern Open next week.
As is usually the case with superstar athletes, the majority of Williams’ wealth has come from endorsements. For a while, Williams wasn’t a favorite of brands, as the Russian Tennis player Maria Sharapova outearned her until 2016, when Williams finally came out on top. (Critics and various Twitter types have long attributed this snub to racism, essentially claiming that advertisers had to be shamed into fully recognizing her talents.)
Williams has all of them in the bag, as well as deals with, at one point or another, Intel (INTC) , the Swiss luxury watch company Audemars Piguet, IBM (IBM) , Lincoln Motors (LECO) (specifically for the Lincoln Navigator Model), Delta (DAL) , JPMorgan Chase (JPM) , (CCF) , Beats by Dre (APPL) , the trading card company Upper Deck, Gucci, Subway, Pepsi (alongside Usain Bolt she was the face of the Pepsi Challenge campaign), the food tech company JUST Egg (she’s also an investor in the company), Aston Martin, the lingere brand Berlei, Tempur-Pedic, AccorHotels, and more.
Forbes estimates that she made $45 million in endorsements this year alone.
Williams is a shrewd investor, and her portfolio includes a percentage of the Miami Dolphins.
In 2014, she started the aforementioned venture capitalist firm Serena Ventures. It has a market capitalization of $12 billion, and has invested in more than 60 start-ups.
Some of the companies Serena Ventures has invested in include the NFT marketplace Bitski, the online training platform Flockjay, the plant-based meat company Impossible Foods, the plant-based deodorant brand Myro and social network and dating app Bumble. She has also invested in Pachama, a company that aims to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change and Karat, a company that helps more Black software engineers get hired.
Additionally, she sits on the board SurveyMonkey's parent, Momentive.
Her Publishing Career
Williams first book, “The Adventures of Qai Qai,” will be published in September. It is inspired by her daughter’s beloved doll, which Williams created herself and which has more than 353,000 followers on Instagram.
The book will be published by Feiwel & Friends, a division of Macmillan Publishers. It’s unknown how much of an advance she was paid, though between $3 to $10 million is a fairly standard rate for celebrity authors.
Her Film Career
Both Williams Sisters served as Executive Producers on “King Richard.” Their exact cut from the film hasn’t been reported, but the film brought in nearly $40 million worldwide.