Serena Williams retires with one place in history and another in the future

When he announced that he would leave the courts after the US Open, Serena Williams avoided talking about retirement. She preferred to call the new stage an evolution. This 2.0 version of the greatest tennis player of the open era is driven by two major goals: growing the family she formed with husband Alexis Ohanian and five-year-old daughter Olympia, and expanding the Serena Venturesa venture capital company that she founded in 2014 and that, thanks to recent investments (of money, time and energy) can make the American the most successful athlete of all time after the end of her sporting cycle.

The time to evolve has arrived. In another night for history on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Serena was eliminated yesterday by Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round: 2 sets to 1 (partials of 6/3, 6/7 and 6/1). Thus, at the age of 40 (she will be 41 at the end of the month), she ended a career marked by winning 23 Grand Slams, more than any other individual in the modern era of the game, six of them precisely on the courts of New York.

Serena’s focus has gradually shifted away from the sport over the years. It was natural that this would happen because of the impact that motherhood imposes on athletes and the physical restrictions anticipated by age. But this movement, also a reflection of the impulse of someone who became a pop and fashion icon, has gained strength in recent months.

The release, about a year ago, of the film “King Richard: Raising Champions”, a fictional biography of the Williams family, led Serena to be present at important festivals and awards on the film circuit. She has also invested time in developing the new collections of S by Serenayour clothing brand, and the Serena Jewelry, of jewelry. She also did work (and hobby appearances) as a model and even wrote a children’s book, to be released this month, among other activities.

Now, it’s the entrepreneurial side’s turn to take the lead once and for all. The former tennis player told Vogue magazine that every day when she wakes up, she feels excited to go downstairs to the office, where she participates in Zoom meetings and analyzes projects and reports from companies in which she intends to invest. Alongside her partner, Alison Rapaport Stillman, the American leads a small team made up almost entirely of women, most of them black.

In March of this year, Serena Ventures announced its first investment fund, worth US$111 million (approximately R$577 million). The contribution goes mainly to startups in various segments, from fashion to education, through finance and women’s well-being. There are more than 60 companies, 13 of which are unicorns (those whose market value exceeds 1 billion dollars). In common, these companies have the fact that they are led or aimed at women and/or people of color.

“Someone who looks like me needs to sign the big checks. Men write checks for men. To change that, more people like me need to be in this position,” he told Vogue.

Doctor in Strategy and Development and specialist in innovation in sport, Maureen Flores explains that the move made by Serena is now a post-career strategy planned from an early age, “when you see that he is an athlete out of the curve”. From there, the individual becomes a brand with an economic agenda.

“It’s part of the North American culture that successful people become social actors. Those who rise, pull the other. Serena is this socioeconomic actor. She contributes with scholarships, financing, employability… She has become a businesswoman who wants to reduce the bottleneck of the access of the black woman” complements Maureen.

Serena has always been a disruptive personality. After all, how could two figures like her and her sister Venus, “black girls born in Compton, a Californian city marked by violence and poverty” become so dominant in the sport if not causing a collapse in the structure of the game? Thanks to them, the serves became such a powerful weapon and the athletes began to attack with force and intensity. More than that, people of color attested that there are no spaces they cannot occupy, and women understood that it is possible to love yourself even if their bodies and personalities do not follow the standards of a pasteurized society.

Such a subjective impact would dispense with the queuing of numbers, but Serena also has them in her favor: there were 73 titles in singles and 23 in doubles, between 1999 and 2020; in the Grand Slams, she was one to tie the 24 cups of Margaret Court, protagonist still in the amateur era, won 14 in the doubles, always with Venus, and two in the mixed ones, with the Belarusian Max Mirnyi. She has also reached the Olympic podium four times: in Sydney-2000, Beijing-2008 and London-2012, in doubles and, in the English capital, also in singles.

Serena never stopped evolving. And as she did so, she forced sport and society to evolve together. Now, she will evolve once more—and she doesn’t want to do it alone.

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The article is in Portuguese

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