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Let’s Stop Asking When Serena Williams Will Retire and Start Appreciating Her While She’s Here

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Maybe four minutes after Naomi Osaka notched the final point, the Serena Williams retirement rumors began. Context is important here, so let’s set the stage. Williams had just lost to Osaka in straight sets in the Australian Open semifinal.

 

 

She fought hard, but it was clear that Osaka had outclassed her. Before leaving the court, Williams paused to wave as the half-capacity crowd gave her a standing ovation. She put a hand on her heart, looking emotional. And . . . cue the gossip. Cue the speculation that this was her official “farewell,” either to the Australian Open or her professional career.

 

The rumors made it into her post-match press conference, where a reporter asked her point-blank what the hand-over-heart gesture meant. “The Aussie crowd is so amazing,” Williams answered, implying that it was a way of thanking attendees for their support.

This may have been especially important to her after a year of playing without fans. But when pressed as to whether it was some kind of permanent goodbye, Williams smiled. “If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone,” she said. Moments later, she walked out of the press conference early, looking tearful, telling reporters, “I’m done.” And just like that, the rumor mill was off and running

 

At 39, Williams is performing at a high-enough level to crack the top ten and make it to the semi-finals in a Grand Slam. The player she lost to was Naomi Osaka, currently ranked No. 3 in the world and looking as impressive as we’ve seen her, and (while we’re on the subject) whose steely-nerved comeback after two shaky first games has been unfairly overshadowed.

Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 18, 2021 Serena Williams of the U.S. leaves the court after losing her semi final match against Japan’s Naomi Osaka REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Personally, my primary concern is not “when will Serena Williams retire?” but “when will I get to watch her play again?” I want a rematch with Osaka and another chance to see two Black women athletes at the top of their game going head-to-head. I want to see if she can overtake Halep again. I want to watch her bear down in another final, or three, or 10.

 

 

I want to see how much further she can push the game of tennis and how many little girls who once looked up to her, as Osaka did, will find themselves facing her across the court. Sure, at some point she’ll retire. Well, probably. (I mean, Venus is 40 and, injuries aside, she’s not slowing down.) But how about right now, we just appreciate this history-making greatness while we have it in front of us, serving up aces with her daughter in the crowd.







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