Abu Dhabi hosts Wil­liams’ first game since giv­ing birth

Amer­i­can beaten in Abu Dhabi come­back by Latvia’s Ostapenko

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - JON TURNER More ten­nis, pages 32-33

Ser­ena Wil­liams said she will take her re­turn to ten­nis “one day at a time” af­ter mark­ing her come­back ap­pear­ance in the first women’s match to be played at the Mubadala World Ten­nis Cham­pi­onship on Satur­day.

Wil­liams, 36, has not played com­pet­i­tively since win­ning the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary, her 23rd grand slam ti­tle which has made her the most suc­cess­ful fe­male ten­nis player in the Open era.

Af­ter an­nounc­ing she was preg­nant in April, mean­ing she won the Mel­bourne ti­tle ap­prox­i­mately eight weeks preg­nant, Wil­liams missed the rest of the 2017 sea­son to fo­cus on moth­er­hood.

She made a sur­prise ap­pear­ance at the Abu Dhabi tour­na­ment yes­ter­day against French Open cham­pion and Lat­vian world No 7 Je­lena Ostapenko.

Ul­ti­mately it ended in de­feat, but los­ing 6-2, 3-6, 10-5, hav­ing not stepped foot on a sta­dium court for nearly 12 months and less than four months af­ter giv­ing birth, it was an en­cour­ag­ing first foray back.

“It felt good to be back out there,” Wil­liams said. “I missed play­ing, I missed the com­pe­ti­tion, I missed the crowd, the at­mos­phere, so it was re­ally nice to be back out there.”

For a cham­pion as ruth­less as Wil­liams, she con­ceded to feel­ing fear­ful when she first stepped on court – a by-prod­uct of the ef­fect moth­er­hood has had on her body.

“At the be­gin­ning, I had a tonne of trep­i­da­tion out there, but as the match went on I was less afraid – that I’m not go­ing to fall over and break,” she said.

“And the more I played, the more con­fi­dent I felt, the more I was ac­tu­ally able to go for shots that I was afraid to go for in the first set. I think that was re­ally good, and I feel like this was a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity and test to see where I am, not only phys­i­cally but men­tally.

“You have to get over that hump, to say ‘go for that shot, you’re go­ing to be OK’.

“It’s a lot that goes on to a fe­male’s body af­ter you have a baby, so I think it was per­fect.”

Wil­liams has been en­tered to de­fend her Aus­tralian Open ti­tle next month, but she said that no fi­nal de­ci­sion has yet been made on whether she will com­pete in Mel­bourne.

“I don’t know if I’m to­tally ready yet or not,” she said. “When I come back I def­i­nitely want to be com­pet­ing for cham­pi­onships.

“Some­one asked me the other day when I started [train­ing again], and I can’t re­mem­ber, it’s all a blur – when you have the baby and you’re train­ing, then back to the baby.

“:I def­i­nitely look for­ward to get­ting back out there. I’m go­ing to go and as­sess what I want to do and fig­ure it out.”

What­ever Wil­liams de­cides to do, moth­er­hood will take prece­dence, and she is tak­ing a philo­soph­i­cal stance on her come­back and plans for the rest of the sea­son.

“I’m just tak­ing it one day at a time,” she said.

“I think be­ing a mother is some­thing in­cred­i­bly spe­cial. I’ve em­barked on a re­ally good jour­ney.

“It’s prob­a­bly the best jour­ney of my life and I love it so much. It’s pretty awe­some.

“I’ve had a lot of come­backs from surgery, but I’ve never had a come­back from giv­ing birth to a hu­man be­ing. So in my eyes I felt that it was a won­der­ful, won­der­ful match for me. I think ev­ery­thing is so much eas­ier for me to ap­proach hav­ing my daugh­ter at home wait­ing for me.

“Know­ing that, yeah I won 23 grand slam ti­tles and I don’t know how many other ti­tles, ba­si­cally I don’t have any­thing to prove. But I just want to go out there and play.

“I’m not done yet.”

Getty

Ser­ena Wil­liams did not win but had many happy re­turns none­the­less against Je­lena Ostapenko of Latvia in their ex­hi­bi­tion match at the Mubadala World Ten­nis Cham­pi­onship at In­ter­na­tional Ten­nis Sta­dium in Abu Dhabi

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