Adjusting to the sleepless nights, the two-hourly night feeds, the demands of a crying baby and an aching body that has endured childbirth is something Serena Williams has in common with every mother around the world. But what every mother around the world does not have in common with Williams is trying to juggle all those demands while attempting to get back into tip-top shape in order to win Grand Slam titles.
Just eight months after she “almost died” giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia, the American was back to one of her favourite hunting grounds and swinging her racket at the French Open – albeit as a multi-tasking mother. “My priority is Olympia. No matter what, that’s my priority,” Williams said after her 7-6(4) 6-4 first round win over Kristyna Pliskova.
“I have given tennis so much and tennis has actually given me a lot, and I couldn’t be more grateful. “But she’s my priority, and I work everything around her. I want her to know that I put her first in my life.
“I feel like everything else will fall into place. I feel like it’s all going to work out.” Getting everything to work out is no easy feat for someone in Williams’ position and it is the reason why in the past 38 years Belgian Kim Clijsters is the only mother to win Grand Slam titles – three of her four majors – after a maternity break.
Over that same period a dozen fathers have triumphed at the slams, winning 24 titles between them. But having been bedridden for six weeks after suffering a series of complications, including a pulmonary embolism that led to multiple surgeries, Williams is only too aware of what she had to overcome to get herself ready for Paris.
So how much more difficult is it for a mother than a father to play top level tennis? “Well, first and foremost, you have to get your core back, which is hard, because it literally spreads when you have a baby,” said the 36-year-old, who is bidding to win a 24th major trophy to draw level with Margaret Court’s all-time record.
“And just coming back from the physical (challenges) of having a baby, at my age is never really easy. “Emotionally it’s different because I’m so emotionally attached to my daughter. Dads are too, but I actually breast fed for a really, really, really long time, and so I just had this real connection with my daughter. So there are definitely some differences.”
Despite her new responsibilities, Williams has not abandoned the disciplined lifestyle she had led before. She has simply redesigned it so that it fits in around her daughter’s routine. “I’m really fortunate enough that I can plan my days and I can plan my career,” said Williams, who appeared to symbolise her life as a ‘Super-mom’ in the skin-tight, black catsuit she chose to wear for Tuesday’s match.
“So I plan my day, like, training is X of time. Then I spend all this time with Olympia. And then if I need to train again, I have X time in training because of her nap schedules. “In the beginning it was difficult to learn her nap schedules… because I don’t want her to ever feel like I’m not around. I’m a super hands-on mom. Maybe too much.”