Serena Williams recently admitted in a press conference that she doesn't love tennis now, and furthermore has never actually liked sports.
In response, the long-time tennis columnist Peter Bodo posted a blog entry on tennis.com in which he somewhat condescendingly said Serena should be shown the dictionary definition of "professional."
"(T)he unwritten part of the definition is the mandate to continue doing whatever it is you're good at, and to do it at an extremely high level, even though it can no longer be called "fun" and it's no longer something you "love" in the most romantic, infatuated sense of the word."
I don't think anywhere in the definition of being a professional, written or otherwise, is the requirement to continue to do something simply because you're good at it. In my opinion, if you no longer have a passion for what you do, it's perfectly reasonable to look to move on.
And passion isn't the same thing as infatuation.
My parents, for example, have been married for close to forty-five years now. What they feel for each other isn't a "glow of satisfaction" that they've done their marriage "well" (although they are both fully satisfied with their life choice) it's that they are passionate about each other in ways that have only grown and deepened in the years of their lives together.
To me, that's the genuinely "romantic" definition of the word "love."
Shifting focus back to tennis, "professionalism" is about how people comport themselves in their chosen modes of employment. I do agree with Bodo that being a professional does mean consistently giving your very best and taking pride in what you do. It doesn't mean, however, you have to necessarily love what you do.
I don't think Serena is at all comparable to Andre Agassi. While I could very well be wrong, I've long felt that for the Williams' sisters tennis has been essentially a means to an end -- their father's way of getting them from where they started in life to something better. Agassi, on the other hand, hated and then (with the help of Steffi Graf) embraced his father's challenge to be the best tennis player ever.
The preceding paragraph is essentially long-winded way of saying I don't think there are any existential epiphanies about tennis in Serena's future, except perhaps when her playing career is over about how hard it's going to be to make a living.
Which brings us to Bodo's comment that inspired me to write this article: "Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling out Serena on this."
But, of course, that's exactly what he IS doing.
Bodo goes on to ask, "Does anyone seriously doubt that these are the best days of Serena's life...?"
Chalk me up as one of the doubters.
In the first place it's clear from her comments that's she's starting to seriously prepare for her post-tennis life. Considering her life expectancy post-tennis is around fifty years, that's not an unreasonable thing to do.
Secondly, no matter what we fans can rightfully expect from professional athletes, I think Bodo's judgment is crossing a line. Maybe these WILL be Serena's best days in life, but maybe not. Perhaps something else will come along she considers to be more important than running around and hitting a little yellow ball over a net.
The bottom-line is Serena has every right to live her life on her own terms, not ours. It's her choice about what she decides to do. The rest of us are just along for the ride.