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Dream of a fairytale send-off is alive for Serena Williams as sporting legend forges her own path home

There are many ways to retire. There’s the out-on-top method, the domain of a happy or disillusioned few who spontaneously call to waltz into the sunset, an all-conqueror with nothing left to achieve, al la Michael Jordan, 1993.

Then there are the proponents of the long goodbye, those who embark on the kinds of signposted farewell tours that would make Elton John, the small-town detective dusting off the badge for one last job, one last dance, like Michael Jordan did in 1998 .

And then there are the infinite versions of the fate that all mortals eventually succumb to, the heart failing, the body failing, or a combination of both, the athlete simply powerless to halt the advances of the Old Fathertime. Like Michael Jordan in 2003.

Serena Williams, forever the master of her own narrative, didn’t start this whole “retirement malarkey” by paying much attention to the script. For one thing, yesterday’s announcement didn’t come in an Instagram post, press conference or the New York Times, but in Vogue. Second, she says it’s not retirement at all, just her “movement away from tennis.”

What’s to come in the last few weeks of Williams’ epic career leading up to what, to avoid controversy, we’ll call her retirement from the sporting realm, doesn’t seem to square entirely with any of those predicted endings either. More likely it will carry elements of all three.

Certainly Williams would not claim to be at the peak of her technical or physical powers, although should she triumph at the US Open next month they would go to the top in every other respect and finally equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 grand -Slam singles titles.

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It looks unlikely, but in just the last 12 months, stranger things have happened in the women’s singles draw at Flushing Meadows and the dream of a fairytale farewell is all but alive.

There will be no sob, seasonal, global farewell. Williams is currently in action at the Canadian Open and is then scheduled to play at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati ahead of what is expected to be her last tournament, the US Open in New York. There, however, she will surely enjoy one last glorious residency on Arthur Ashe, albeit one that could just as easily last one night as it could turn into a series of sold-out shows.

The 40-year-old has already ensured that she was there at all, after not only returning to the field after the birth of her first child Olympia in 2017, but also despite a number of career-threatening injuries since then. and go on their own terms. Or did she? Because even in her Vogue article on Tuesday, Williams mused on the societal and biological imperatives that brought her to this point and wondered what could have been.

“I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family,” she wrote. “I don’t think that’s fair. If I were a man I wouldn’t be writing this because I would be out there playing and winning.”

In another world, she said, maybe she could be a Tom Brady. Seeking advice on whether to even attempt her latest comeback, she turned to Tiger Woods. When you occupy the Serena Sphere, there are only a chosen few to compare and relate to.

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Regardless of how these past few weeks go, it’s these greats that cement Williams in the sporting context.

Serena Williams to retire from tennis after US Open (REUTERS)

Serena Williams to retire from tennis after US Open (REUTERS)

“As the years go by, I hope people come to see me as a symbol of something bigger than tennis,” she added, rather undercutting herself. Certainly, Williams needs to know that her gargantuan legacy is already secured off the pitch.

Not surpassing Courts Fang or even keeping up with him is clearly annoying. It looked inevitable when Williams won her 21st Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 2015, and even after becoming a mother there were four chances to get there, four losses in four finals, which is kind of a sting dominant world champions can feel.

“Maybe I thought about it too much and that didn’t help,” Williams said of her attitude toward those games. “The way I see it, I should have had more than 30 Grand Slams.

“Should, would, could. I didn’t show up like I should or could have. But I showed up 23 times, and that’s fine. Actually, it’s extraordinary. But these days, when I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”

Should, would, could? Maybe. But look back at every tournament played, every record broken, every ceiling shattered during one of the sport’s great careers, and more often than not it was a case of won, done, done.

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