— When Naomi Francois “Osaka” beat her idol Serena Williams in the first round near their homes in the Miami area, Serena reportedly walked straight into a vehicle and skipped a press conference.
This is not a dream scenario for her. Serena has struggled with footwork and timing since returning to tennis at Mubadala in Abu Dhabi. She has faced dangerous opponents early in tournaments, because the tour hasn’t rewarded her career efforts by giving her a protected seeding.
Like the slumping Novak Djokovic, it’s not clear if Serena’s heart is more into time with her family than her job. Serena’s coach says he thinks Serena can win slams again, and she has shown moments of brilliance on court. But she is no longer the battle-hardened warrior who dominated any woman in her path. She’s a new mother recovering from complications, and she’s also a 36-year old woman who has achieved more than any woman in tennis history.
She may never regain her former desire and dedication to training and competing at the highest level. No woman has ever played at that level. We shouldn’t expect Serena to return to that.
Serena, her coaches and her fans will somehow have to accept that fact. We’re lucky that Serena is still playing at all. She deserves more time to adjust to her new role in life, as a mother and pro tennis player. The tour should alter some rules to reward — not punish — women for returning to tournaments after pregnancy.
Serena should never have to play a first round match against a woman who just won Indian Wells. Serena needs time, comfort and care. We should give it to her. She earned it.
words and photos by Christopher Johnson
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