At 35, having won 23 grand slams and with the birth of her baby girl three days ago, the question on everyone’s lips is: Can Serena Jameka Williams return to the summit of world tennis?
There is no doubt that Serena has been the best female tennis player of her generation and for close to two decades now; however, at 35 years and after the pregnancy induced physiological changes her fit but aging body has undergone, it remains to be seen how well the comeback of the oldest world no. 1 would pan out starting from next year.
Former tennis player, Kim Clijsters who came back to win 3 of her 4 grand slam titles after childbirth with the second (US Open) coming 18 months after the birth of her first child, while speaking to AFP said: “Every player is different, every pregnancy is different, every delivery is different so it’s really hard to comment on how quickly she’ll be able to bounce back.”
Meanwhile, Clijsters was just 26 when she ended her two-year career break after childbirth to return to tennis before retiring at 29. Serena on the other hand will turn 36 on the 26th of September.
Clijsters’ former coach, Wim Fissette while speaking to CNN Sport mentioned a few reasons why he thinks Serena will find it hard to bounce back. First, he noted that unlike Kim Clijsters who before the birth of her child had one grand slam and Victoria Azarenka, 28, who had two before recently returning to the court after having her son last December; Serena has no point to prove and might be lacking motivation.
“What I found the most important with both players was that they still had a lot they wanted to and believed they could achieve. They had big dreams and big goals and they used that motivation from the moment they were pregnant, to stay fit and start training quite shortly after giving birth and with the right motivation, anything is possible.’ But for Serena, ‘She’s achieved everything. She’s the best tennis player of all time.”
On the flipside of Serena lacking motivation after 23 grand slams is the little matter of wanting to win one or two more for her baby girl, and even a bigger motivation of equalling and overtaking Margaret Court’s all time singles record of 24 grand slam titles, as two more grand slam titles would set the tone for a perfect retirement time.
Fissette then talks up motherhood and what it did to Clijsters “before, everything was about tennis and performing and winning, winning titles. Coming back, the first priority was family and a healthy, happy baby. I felt that took a lot of pressure away from Kim, even after a loss she realized there were more important things in the world and I think that helped her a lot.” As for Serena, ‘she will realize, that being a mum will be a better feeling than all her grand slam wins put together and she will enjoy the family life,’ the current coach of Johanna Konta, the world no. 7 said.
It must however be stated that there are numerous examples of sports women who returned to action after child birth to win major honours e.g World Champion British runner Paula Radcliffe at 34 she won the 2007 New York City Marathon less than 10 months after having her daughter and repeated the victory the following year; British heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, 29, won gold medal at the IAAF World Championships in 2015, nine months after delivering her son and won silver at the 2016 Olympics; also at 29, Evonne Goolagong Cawley of Australia won the Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles three years after the birth of her first child, becoming the first mother champion in 66 years at the All England Club.
Asides the fact that it is Serena Williams we are talking about here; a player with so much mental strength who came back from pulmonary embolism and won 3 of her grand slam titles from a match point down, scientists have proven that a woman who has given birth can be a stronger athlete than she was before. And according to the words of Dr. James Pivarnik (a Professor of Kinesiology and Epidemiology at Michigan State University who studies pregnancy and sports) in Chicago Tribune, “What makes news is not 99.5% of pregnant women in the world. It’s the Serena Williamses and Paula Radcliffes. They’re different to start with, not only because of their talent in their sports but because their bodies can withstand intense training without breaking down. They recover very well. If anybody can do it, they can.”