How Serena Williams rewrote the playbook for female athletes juggling motherhood and sport
On the day she announced her retirement from the U.S. Open, Serena Williams, who’d won four Grand Slams, was sitting in the corner of her locker, working on her backhand as her father, John, stood beside her. John was looking directly at her as they discussed a future he hoped for his daughter. He was confident that his child, now 22, would overcome any physical obstacles, but he worried about the mental ones. “You go from being a pretty little girl to now going into a very fierce sport,” he said. “And that’s a big change.” On Thursday, Williams confirmed he told her she could leave as soon as she chose. “Just wanted to be clear,” she told reporters.
“I told her she had to be able to make the decision herself,” he said. “And I told her that was fine.”
Williams’s father, a former agent who now teaches at Georgetown University, is among a small group of people who have tried to keep her from making that decision. They began to try to dissuade her when she started having a baby more than two years ago. She began to have a close relationship with her father, and he became a surrogate for her, making sure she had something to eat and keeping her company during her treatments. They took turns to drive her to the hospital so they could be there for her throughout her pregnancy. “For me, that’s more important than my career,” she said in a 2015 interview at the French Open.
But her father worried about the possibility of her falling pregnant with his child and lost her for two years. Then finally, after she became a mother, he decided to stop trying to dissuade her. He finally admitted that he wanted to keep them apart, but he let her stay in the same apartment when she moved back in with him after her daughter was born in late May