From one champion to another, tributes flow when a professional athlete steps into the retirement zone. It was no different a few days ago when legend Tom Brady, who needs no introduction, walked into the sunset, leaving behind a trail of records. In the field of the NFL, which is the staple diet for most Yanks (Americans), Brady was King, and Brady was the biggest superstar.
Yet, when the retirement announcement came from his own social media handle this week, reactions were super fast. The seven-time Super Bowl champion defined success in the modern era as the QB for the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. None other than another American legend, Serena Williams, came up with the first serve, to use tennis parlance, to greet Brady.
The seven-time Super Bowl champion redefined success in the modern era as the quarterback for the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “I’m getting teary-eyed watching this. Sad to see you go. Welcome to the retirement world…Again,” wrote Serena, arguably the biggest Black American athlete. At first read, what Serena said may seem a bit sarcastic.
No, not really, for, she knows what it is to give up the sport, give up the adulation, and how to step away from the glare of the arc lights. Daresay, Serena, herself, played tennis with great passion and purpose, underlined her career with great wins, punctuated with 23 Grand Slam singles titles against her name. It should have been 24, which would have brought her at par with legend Margaret Court, who won her titles in the mixed era — Amateur plus Open.
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Unlike Tom Brady, Serena Williams still teasing fans with a potential return
In the case of Serena, she grew up under the shadow of her elder sister Venus, before emerging as the diva. Serena flirted, with tennis, and men and had many dalliances. Tennis was and is her first love, though, the Super Mom has slipped into a mother’s role with relish. Her last wave, the last hurrah at the US Open last summer in New York was teary. She made a song and dance of it, and rightly so, for, she deserved it.
To be sure, when Serena won her last Grand Slam at the Australian Open, she was expecting. She had an incident-filled pregnancy and then came her love child. She adores Olympia. Her return to tennis was traumatic, first, then emotional, before becoming teary-eyed. She deserved a 24th title, which came into her grasp and slipped away a few times. For someone who knew how to kill opponents, she was ”choking,” a pet phrase in tennis. So, the summer of 2022 saw her say goodbye.
It was not easy, at all. The heart willed her to play but the body was not coping with the rigors of tennis. The kids she would pulp to juice on the court, became her rivals, as they started beating her. So, for Serena to retire was not easy, though she chose raucous New York for it. The farewell she got was awesome.
Serena struggled to come to terms with retirement. In a few days, she talked of a comeback.
It made great viewing in prime-time shows, though she knew very well her career was done and dusted. Serena remains a queen in all walks of life, she still enjoys a unique “‘siren” status. One has to understand the emotions which go into retirement. Serena said bye, but for Tom Brady, this was a second bye-bye. Last year, he retired, and then in a short span of time, he made a comeback. Nothing wrong with that, as he was still solid and dominating.
He had talked of NFL being a 100 percent commitment from his side. His belief was unless you are into it a cent percent, success was not going to come. Some people have rewritten his farewell piece as his first retirement is still so fresh in memory. Sample this, Serena is 41, and Brady is 45. He has won whatever he wanted. In fact, he may have got bored of winning, for there was nothing left for him.
An athlete needs the motivation to continue, to slog, to labor, to soak in the atmosphere, and hear the fans cheering. NFL and tennis are very different at the same time high profile. To say that NFL has big viewership in the USA would be stating the obvious, as, these days, American sport has an audience across the Atlantic and Pacific. Back to Brady, his second retirement, a certain one that, came one year and three days after his first one.
There was no Serena type of farewell where he could wave to fans. It was different, in the sense, he put out a post that was received with shock and surprise.
“Good morning, guys. I’ll get to the point right away: I’m retiring. For good. I know the process was a pretty big deal last time, so when I woke up this morning, I figured I’d just press ‘record’ and let you guys know first. So, I won’t be long-winded. You only get one super-emotional retirement essay, and I used mine up last year,” the legendary quarterback announced.
These words from Tom Brady conveyed so much. He knew one farewell was enough and to ask for one more would have been unnatural. What do athletes do when that high adrenaline flow stops? Some like Bjorn Borg at 26 just walked away, never wanting to return to Wimbledon, the Mecca of tennis. Pete Sampras also believes in staying away. Some like Michel Phelps, again American, won everything in the Olympic pool, retired, and returned.
Only to end up losing, and not be the same champion swimmer. Phelps dealt with difficult issues like depression and needed help. How and why is hard to explain, because mental health as a subject is dense and specialized. Perhaps, someone like Tom Brady will slip into a new role soon as a commentator/expert. People will lap up what he says, for he was part of the theatre called NFL for a rocking 23 seasons.
He gave it his best shot, a legend. So, if Serena and many more are tweeting about his retirement, it’s not a mutual admiration club. This is how champions acknowledge each other’s contributions. Still, wonder what is the link between tennis and NFL? Simple, Serena Williams and Tom Brady.
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