Ser­ena Wil­liams is preg­nant, to go on leave

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Sport -

NEW YORK — Ser­ena Wil­liams is go­ing on ma­ter­nity leave, send­ing so­cial me­dia into over­drive.

Wil­liams, the best women’s tennis player of this era and one of the world’s most prom­i­nent ath­letes, con­firmed on Wed­nes­day that she was preg­nant and ex­pect­ing her first child later this year.

Wil­liams (35) has not played a match since win­ning her 23rd Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tle at the Aus­tralian Open on Jan­uary 28, when she was al­ready close to two months preg­nant.

More ma­jor ti­tles will have to wait, if they hap­pen at all. Wil­liams will turn 36 in Septem­ber, but her spokes­woman Kelly Bush No­vak said that while Wil­liams would miss the rest of the 2017 sea­son, she in­tended to re­turn to the cir­cuit in 2018.

“Ser­ena said that I should make sure if any­one asks that that is clear,” Bush No­vak said in a tele­phone in­ter­view on Wed­nes­day.

The an­nounce­ment was the lat­est sur­prise from Wil­liams, who un­ex­pect­edly an­nounced her en­gage­ment to Alexis Oha­nian, a busi­ness­man and the co-founder of Red­dit, in De­cem­ber.

“I’m elated for her; I’ve seen her with our son, and she will be a great mother,” said Andy Rod­dick, a former men’s world No. 1 who is a good friend of Wil­liams and has known her since child­hood.

Chris Evert, the former No. 1, said she com­mu­ni­cated with Wil­liams via text on Wed­nes­day. “Get­ting mar­ried and hav­ing a child is a spe­cial jour­ney,” Evert said. “She, to me, is more than ready for this lifestyle change. It’s been 20 years on tour.”

Wil­liams’s preg­nancy was con­firmed af­ter a wild day of spec­u­la­tion that be­gan when a pho­to­graph was posted on Wil­liams’ Snapchat story, per­haps in­ad­ver­tently, that showed her pos­ing side­ways in a yel­low bathing suit with what looked like a baby bump. The im­age, which ap­peared to be taken in a mir­ror, was cap­tioned “20 weeks” and later deleted.

Bush No­vak said she had no in­for­ma­tion about Wil­liams’ so­cial-me­dia ac­counts or why the im­age had been re­moved.

Wil­liams is the sec­ond lead­ing women’s tennis player to an­nounce a preg­nancy in the past year. Vic­to­ria Azarenka, a former No. 1 player and a two-time Grand Slam ti­tlist, left the cir­cuit in June and gave birth to a son, Leo, in De­cem­ber. Azarenka (27) is plan­ning to re­turn to com­pe­ti­tion in late July af­ter Wim­ble­don.

It has been an ex­tra­or­di­nary, and ex­traor­di­nar­ily unset­tled, stretch in women’s tennis, with ma­jor stars miss­ing ex­tended ac­tion for both joy­ful and down­beat rea­sons. Maria Sharapova will re­turn to com­pe­ti­tion on Wed­nes­day in Ger­many af­ter a 15-month sus­pen­sion for a dop­ing vi­o­la­tion. Pe­tra Kvi­tova, a two-time Wim­ble­don cham­pion, is still re­cov­er­ing from in­juries she sus­tained in a knife at­tack at her home in the Czech Re­pub­lic in De­cem­ber.

By win­ning in Aus­tralia, Wil­liams broke her tie with St­effi Graf for the most Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tles in the Open era. Wil­liams ranks be­hind only Margaret Court’s 24 on the ca­reer list. Court, an Aus­tralian, won the last three of those ti­tles in 1973 af­ter giv­ing birth to a son, Danny, in 1972.

Others have re­turned to the cir­cuit af­ter moth­er­hood and pros­pered, in­clud­ing Kim Cli­jsters, the Bel­gian star who won the United States Open in 2009 and 2010 and the Aus­tralian Open in 2011 af­ter the birth of her daugh­ter, Jada, in 2008.

Cli­jsters re­tired in 2012 at 29. Court played in her last Grand Slam tour­na­ment at 33. But no lead­ing sin­gles player has re­turned from preg­nancy at Wil­liams’ age. Then again, she has spent a ca­reer de­fy­ing con­ven­tion, be­com­ing a cham­pion de­spite play­ing lit­tle com­pet­i­tive ju­nior tennis and re­turn­ing from long lay­offs and ma­jor health is­sues to dom­i­nate.

Wil­liams has won 10 of her 23 ma­jor sin­gles ti­tles since turn­ing 30 and is by far the oldest woman to hold the No. 1 spot in the WTA rank­ings.

“I think if Ser­ena wants to come back af­ter hav­ing a baby, I think she’s proven at this point that age is not a big fac­tor for her,” said Pam Shriver, an an­a­lyst and a former lead­ing player. “She may even feel she can take a lit­tle les­son from Roger Fed­erer. I know it’s for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, but look how he’s come back at age 35. I don’t think it re­ally mat­ters if you’re 35 or 37 or 38. You’re part of that same age group, and once you’ve got­ten over that men­tal hump of com­pet­ing at this higher level in your 30s, which she ob­vi­ously has, it is cer­tainly pos­si­ble.”

Wil­liams did not lose a set as she swept to her sev­enth sin­gles ti­tle at the Aus­tralian Open, de­feat­ing her older sis­ter Venus Wil­liams in the fi­nal. It is un­clear whether Ser­ena Wil­liams knew she was preg­nant dur­ing that tour­na­ment.

“It does make what she did in Mel­bourne even more spec­tac­u­lar,” Shriver said. “But hav­ing been preg­nant a cou­ple times, in­clud­ing with twins, if you’re go­ing to win a ma­jor when preg­nant, guess what the right time to do it is? The first two months.”

Wil­liams has not played a tour­na­ment since that vic­tory. She missed events in In­dian Wells and Mi­ami in March, cit­ing knee prob­lems. — online.

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