By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – Serena Williams may have planned retirement her way but the American must be prepared to accept the goodbyes as well as the losses and exit the stage with grace, tennis great Martina Navratilova has told Reuters.
Williams signalled her intention to retire in a Vogue article in early August saying she was “evolving away from tennis” but never confirming the U.S. Open as her final event.
However, for Navratilova, like most of the tennis world, the message was clear — Flushing Meadows, where Williams won the first of her 23 Grand Slam titles in 1999, will be the place she takes her final bow.
Navratilova said she completely understood the emotions Williams was wrestling with as she approaches her final match having experienced many of them herself.
But having made her decision, Williams must be prepared to live with it and say goodbye even in the face of defeat.
“It’s hard,” said Navratilova, who is working with Sense Arena on a virtual reality tennis training product that provides players with enhanced visualisation.
“When I retired in ’93 I told the press it was my last year which was a mistake because every single tournament was a freaking tear-jerker.”
Williams’ short farewell tour, which has included two stops – in Toronto and Cincinnati – has been more bitter than sweet.
The 40-year-old Williams also said in the Vogue article that she did not like the word “retirement” and has been clearly frustrated by the inability to dictate the terms of her exit.
“Serena did it her way, which was announcing in a very glamorous way on Vogue magazine, but then she is not accepting the losses, she is not accepting what comes with it which is saying goodbye,” added Navratilova.
Beaten in the last 16 at Roland Garros in June 2021, Williams has played sporadically and that has been reflected in her results, winning only one match since.
At the Cincinnati Open last week, her final tune-up ahead of the U.S. Open which starts Aug. 29, Williams was humbled 6-4 6-0 by U.S. Open champion Raducanu and marched off the court stone-faced, barely acknowledging an adoring crowd.
Navratilova believes Williams should brace herself for more disappointment because the U.S. Open is unlikely to provide the fairytale ending she would like for her career.
If Hollywood were writing the script Williams would walk off into retirement in triumph by winning an elusive 24th Slam that would pull her level with Australian Margaret Court at the top of the all-time list.
While the U.S. Open can produce a good Cinderella story like last year when Raducanu, an 18-year-old qualifier ranked 150 in the world, hoisted the trophy but Navratilova does not see Williams turning back the clock and conjuring similar magic.
“Emotions can only carry you so far, I don’t see a Cinderella happy ending where she wins the tournament,” said Navratilova. “The way she has looked it doesn’t look like she is going to make a miraculous comeback and win the tournament.
“And with the stress of knowing this is likely your last tournament it doesn’t help.
“But if anyone can overcome it would be Serena.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)