NEWS

Can Serena make a successful comeback?

February 13, 2018

Tennis lovers have certainly had an interesting time since Serena Williams went on maternity leave. Having won the 2017 Australian Open while several weeks pregnant, her absence for the following 12 months has given the rest of the field a big chance.

Fans at the Championships, Wimbledon were able to enjoy watching Garbine Muguruza win the ladies' title, her second Grand Slam and first on the famous south London grass. 

Elsewhere, however, it has been a tale of players taking their maiden titles. The teenage sensation Jelena Ostapenko triumphed in Paris, Sloane Stephens took the US Open and Caroline Wozniacki finally landed her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne.

Sooner or later, however, Serena would be back. Sharing motherhood with work has meant having daughter Alexis Olympia in the crowd, as the 23-time Grand Slam winner returned to action in the Federation Cup against the Netherlands. It was quite a family affair as the paparazzi got their baby snaps and Serena joined Venus on the court.

The pair lost the doubles match in a dead rubber that was the most low-key of returns and it is naturally impossible that the former world number one will be back to full fitness for a while.  

Nonetheless, now she is back in action it is hard to imagine that she won't at least be ready to play in the French Open in May, with Wimbledon to follow just over a month later. 

The question now is how well Serena can come back. Combining motherhood with a sporting career is something plenty of women have managed well, although since the first world war only one woman - Evonne Goolagong-Cawley - has won Wimbledon as a mother. 

Serena isn't the only leading mother to be playing. Two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka was on the comeback trail last year, although in her case having a baby brought an unexpected burden as she faced a custody battle over her son that forced her to stay in California until early this year. This means 2018 could be the year when she has the best chance to show there is a chance to perform well with baby in tow. 

The motivation is certainly there for Williams. Although she has declared that she would like to win more Grand Slams - as distinct from actually needing to - the fact her tally is just one short of the all-time record of 24 won by Margaret Court provides an obvious target. If she hits 25, that might be a time to retire and settle down to a gentler family life. 

When Serena will play in a big tournament remains to be seen. She did provisionally enter the Australian Open before deciding she would not be fit enough, but having spent time back out on court there must be a huge temptation to head to Dubai or Acapulco ahead of the two Masters Series tournaments later this month and in March, the back-to-back Indian Wells and Miami events. 

Her every move will be watched closely as Serena Williams seeks to become the oldest mother to win Wimbledon in over a century (Goolagong-Cawley was 29 when she did it in 1980). 

Of course, it may be that the comeback does not see Serena return to the top, but even if that is the case, it will certainly be interesting to see her try. And as the last year has shown, there is a new club of Grand Slam winners on the block there to challenge her. 

Image: Richard Shiro/Getty Images from Keith Prowse subscription

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