Wil­liams brings us along for the ride as she con­quers ten­nis, moth­er­hood

The Idaho Statesman - - Sports - BY JANE MCMANUS New York Daily News

If you fol­low Ser­ena Wil­liams on so­cial me­dia, you’ve prob­a­bly heard of Qai Qai. Her year-old daugh­ter Olympia’s doll has her own Twit­ter and In­sta­gram ac­counts, and even hosted a QQQ&A from Down Un­der.

It’s fun for Wil­liams’ fans to see Qai Qai in a direc­tor’s chair court­side for prac­tice at the Aus­tralian Open or be­ing hugged by Olympia, but it’s also a cal­cu­lated strat­egy of en­gage­ment. From her own ac­counts, Wil­liams posts video of in­ti­mate fam­ily mo­ments, and al­lows fans to see the dy­namic of her mar­riage with Red­dit co-founder Alexis Oha­nian. The light­hearted part of it is just the tip of the ice­berg for a woman with some very se­ri­ous things to ac­com­plish.

The an­nual Grand Slam cam­paign is about to be­gin and, for the mil­lionth time in liv­ing mem­ory, Wil­liams has a re­al­is­tic shot at all four, be­gin­ning with the Aus­tralian Open.

How she is do­ing it is noth­ing short of rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Last year, Wil­liams missed the Aus­tralian but reached the fi­nal at the U.S. Open and Wim­ble­don, and the fourth round at the French. Through all of it, she has made moth­er­hood a core part of the process.

“Some peo­ple be­lieve that women go qui­etly and have their ba­bies and the story is on the back end when they come back and they win and they win at the high­est level,” for­mer WNBA and UConn star Swin Cash said. “She’s tak­ing the peo­ple who may only want to cover the come­back and forces them to cover the jour­ney.”

Cash, who had a lit­tle boy at about the same time Wil­liams had Olympia, has re­lated to Wil­liams at ev­ery step in this story. In the way Wil­liams presents it, hav­ing a baby isn’t the ob­sta­cle in a come­back story; it’s just part of the jour­ney. Last week when Olympia wanted to be held while Wil­liams was get­ting ready for a match, Wil­liams posted pho­tos of her get­ting her stretch­ing done with Olympia in her arms.

Wil­liams wasn’t al­ways so ac­ces­si­ble. There were points in her ca­reer where she avoided the me­dia, or sat for post-match press con­fer­ences like she’d been is­sued de­ten­tion after a loss. In the last few years, that has changed. Even after dif­fi­cult losses in the fi­nal at the U.S. Open and Wim­ble­don last year, she was avail­able and en­gaged. Her open­ing re­marks at Wim­ble­don were some of the most can­did I’d ever heard.

In Lon­don, she dis­cussed in emo­tional de­tail the de­ci­sion to stop nurs­ing as part of her train­ing process.

“Once I got to six months, I felt good about it,” Wil­liams said. “Then it was just emo­tion­ally let­ting go. That was a dif­fer­ent thing. I lit­er­ally sat Olympia in my arms, I talked to her, we prayed about it. I told her, ‘Look, I’m go­ing to stop. Mommy has to do this.’ … She was to­tally fine. It was the strangest thing.”

It wasn’t your usual pre-tour­na­ment press con­fer­ence and it was in­cred­i­bly re­lat­able for many of the women who have fol­lowed her ca­reer and try to nav­i­gate be­tween obli­ga­tions.

When it comes to women in the work­force, there is lit­tle about be­com­ing a mother that cre­ates the sense that you’ll be bet­ter at your job. The mommy-track is still a thing, and this as­sump­tion goes dou­ble for women who are ath­letes.

Your body changes, and when your body is your in­stru­ment of em­ploy­ment, there is a chance it will not be as ef­fi­cient af­ter­wards.

And into this arena comes Ser­ena Wil­liams, whose ex­cel­lence is in­con­tro­vert­ible. Who is wear­ing her moth­er­hood like a badge of honor.

Brand­ing is one thing, but Wil­liams’ fam­ily is mod­el­ing what could be a fu­ture for work­ing par­ents. Oha­nian has ac­tively called for paid parental leave, and took time after the birth of their daugh­ter to be home. He’s made time to sup­port her in per­son at many events in con­junc­tion with his own work, and has made par­ent­ing as much a part of his pub­lic face as she has.

And all of it would be lovely even if Wil­liams had re­tired two years ago. But she em­phat­i­cally did not. In full view, she has brought her fans along for the good days and bad as she started train­ing again, stopped nurs­ing sooner than she’d hoped in or­der to drop weight, won her first WTA matches in March and un­til the dra­matic U.S. Open fi­nal loss to Naomi Osaka.

Even in that mo­ment, on the blue Flush­ing courts against a player who was clearly bet­ter on the day, Wil­liams let us see ev­ery­thing that was hap­pen­ing.

Ad­van­tage, Wil­liams.

TREVOR COLLENS AP

The an­nual Grand Slam cam­paign is about to be­gin, and – wouldn’t you know – Ser­ena Wil­liams has a re­al­is­tic shot at all four, be­gin­ning with the Aus­tralian Open.

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