Serena Williams is back on the court hitting in an official capacity, preparing for the USA’s Fed Cup tie against the Netherlands in North Carolina.
But will this been the beginning of her “official” return? (We don’t count her appearance in the Abu Dhabi exhibition in late December). And once she’s back playing, what level will she attain?
The Tennismash team of Kim Trengove, Matt Trollope and Leigh Rogers give their views on one of the most hotly-anticipated tennis comebacks.
There’s been plenty of conjecture around when Serena will make her official comeback to tennis. When/where do you think she’ll return?
Trengove: Fed Cup in Asheville should be an easy one for Serena; not so much pressure, positive team spirit, and an opposition which includes world 108 Richel Hogenkamp as the greatest threat. How often does Serena, with a 13-0 singles record in Fed Cup, lose to someone outside the top 100? It will be a nice test anyway, as was Abu Dhabi. I don’t expect a full-scale return until Wimbledon, with a few near misses beforehand for which she will be forgiven as a new mother. But the hunt will start in earnest July 2.
Trollope: I always look to previous examples. Victoria Azarenka took six months to return to tennis after giving birth. Kim Clijsters took even longer. And both of them were a decade younger than Serena. Williams is among the US Fed Cup squad this week but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be selected to play – I originally had her comeback pegged for Indian Wells, but now I’m leaning toward Miami, her “home” tournament where she’s won a staggering eight times.
Rogers: It was interesting to see Mandy Minella back in action this week, competing at an ITF event after having her first child in October. As great as it would be to see Serena back on tour too, I think she’s wise not to rush. She’s playing for Grand Slam titles, so why not focus on building her fitness and target a strong return on grass?
How do you think she’ll perform once she comes back?
Trengove: She will reach the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and lose in a long match to Angelique Kerber or Petra Kvitova – players who are also reestablishing their confidence and credentials in 2018.
Trollope: She won’t come back until she’s physically ready. Which means that when she does, she’ll be fit and firing. It took Serena only a few events to hit her stride when she returned in 2011 following a year of nasty health complications. And she’s never needed a ton of match play to find her rhythm. So once she’s back into the swing of competing? I think we’ll see her contending for Grand Slam titles again, especially by the time Wimbledon and the US Open roll around.
Rogers: Serena has set the bar high herself, reasoning “I don’t want to just compete, I want to do far better than that” as she withdrew from last month’s Australian Open. I would not be surprised to see her finish this season with a Grand Slam title.
In a recent piece in Vogue, Serena said: “There hasn’t been a clear number one since I was there. It will be cool to see if I get there again, to what I call my spot—where I feel I belong. If there’s no clear number one, it’s like, yeah, I can get my spot back. But if there is a clear number one, that’s cool, too, because it’s like, yeah, I’m gonna come for you.” With the WTA landscape currently poised the way it is, do you see Serena returning to top spot?
Trengove: She’s not interested in No.2, unless it’s another child. But Serena’s ascent won’t be instant. Twelve months. That’s how long she has been away, that’s how long it will take to get back. She has a thirst for breaking Margaret Court’s Grand Slam singles record (24) and she will be tested. Others are confident, the game has shifted. Players fought harder than ever at the Australian Open and developed inner resolve, which Serena will come up against. It’s just the sort of challenge she’ll relish, made all the more remarkable with Alexis Olympia watching from the cradle.
Trollope: She could, but it will depend on her calendar. With family a priority and her health paramount, Serena will probably play a fairly limited, controlled schedule. And with the top crop of female players like Wozniacki, Halep, Pliskova, Svitolina and Kerber playing consistently and increasingly well – a trait rewarded in the WTA rankings – Serena may struggle to regain the No.1 ranking, even if she does win major titles.
Rogers: No. To return to No.1, Serena would need to play a much fuller schedule (something she wasn’t even doing pre-pregnancy in recent years). And why should she? Chasing smaller titles, prize money and ranking points is not going to enhance her legacy. It is all about winning more Grand Slam titles for Serena – that’s how she wants to prove she’s still the No.1.
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