How Serena Williams’ former coach brought Simona Halep back from the brink of tennis retirement
Nov. 16, 2018
Updated 10:05 a.m.
2 years ago
This story has been updated with an interview with Serena Williams in which she details her relationship with her former coach Brad Gilbert, and how she managed her health during her career.
On Nov. 9, 1993, the world stopped turning when Serena Williams’ life flashed before her like a movie trailer, just as so many women’s lives have in the early years of their careers.
“This is my life, and I have no idea where it’s going,” the 17-time major champion said of the moment of transition to which she had been drawn. She had just won her first career title at the Australian Open, a tournament she’d wanted to win since her early teens.
With that win, Serena became the only player to reach the final at each of the last 15 majors. For those 15 years, her career trajectory never seemed to change, whether she was ranked outside the top 10 or in the No. 1 spot. She never won a title that wasn’t on top of the men’s tour.
But for nearly four decades, Serena Williams never made it back from the brink of retirement, never stopped playing to win. Even when she was the No. 1 player in the world, there were moments in which she didn’t want to play or where she simply couldn’t do it anymore, when she seemed to get sicker and sicker, her body betraying her.
There was the time in 2001 when she said it seemed like she could physically no longer play tennis; the 2007 French Open final, when she missed a match because she had a fever and had to leave the tournament early; the 2009 Australian Open, when she spent most of the final with her head buried in a towel; and, at the end of last year, when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that was, at the time, an aggressive type of glioblastoma.
In the decade between 2007 and 2017, Serena Williams won 14 Grand Slam singles titles, including two of the three Grand Slams: the U.S. Open and the Australian Open. She is one of only