Serena Williams opens up about her return to Wimbledon


Serena Williams opens up about her return to Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England – At first glance, things looked like business as usual at Wimbledon on Saturday.

Two days before the start of this Grand Slam tournament, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal trained on adjacent grass pitches with the church tower of St. Mary’s Church as a backdrop.

As the two long-time rivals trained under the English sun, Serena Williams took a seat in the main interview room under the spotlights, as she has done countless times before.

But although it will be her 21st Wimbledon, it will be an occasion like no other for Williams. She is returning to the All England Club at 40 after not playing a singles since Wimbledon last year when she tore her right hamstring after slipping in the first set of a first-round match which she failed to finish on center court .

I asked Williams how motivated her comeback was by wanting to create a different memory at Wimbledon?

“Ever since the game ended, it was always something that was always on my mind,” she said. “So it was a tremendous motivation.”

Center Court, now 100 years old and still the most atmospheric venue in professional play, has been the stage for many triumphs for Williams, who has won seven Wimbledon singles titles.

But last year was about pain and disappointment. She cried as she tried to continue after her injury and burst into tears again after being forced to sit out the game against Aliaksandra Sasnovich. Although Williams was able to limp off the court, she stumbled as she left the grass and needed help to reach the passageway leading to the clubhouse exit.

“You never want a game to end like this,” Williams said. “It’s really unfortunate, but it was definitely something that was always very close to my heart.”

It has taken a year for her to return to the tour, withdrawing from three straight Grand Slam tournaments and sparking understandable speculation as to whether she intends to continue playing tennis at all.

“I didn’t retire,” she said on Saturday, choosing her words with particular care. “To be honest, I had no plans. I just didn’t know when I would come back. I didn’t know how I would come back. Obviously Wimbledon is a great place and it just worked out.”

Since her last appearance at the All England Club, she’s had little rest: juggling motherhood – her daughter Olympia is now 4 – and business ventures, including Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on investing in companies whose founders are historical underrepresented backgrounds.

“Part of me feels like that’s a little bit more a part of my life now than tournaments,” she said of her interests outside of tennis. “When you have a venture company, you have to go all out. It’s definitely taking up literally all of my extra time. And it is fun. I am currently out of the office for the next few weeks. So if you email me, you’ll get the nice “absence” reply. Everyone knows I’ll be back in a few weeks. But it is good.”

Williams has also split from Patrick Mouratoglou, the high-profile Frenchman who has coached her for the past 10 years. Mouratoglou is now teamed up with Simona Halep, a former No1 who produced what might be the best performance of her career when she beat Williams in straight sets in the 2019 Wimbledon final.

Williams is now coached by Eric Hechtman, a former University of Miami tennis player who is the longtime tennis director at Miami’s Royal Palm Tennis Club. He has known both Williams and her older sister Venus for almost 15 years and has been coaching Venus Williams since 2019.

Now Hechtman is coaching them both, although Venus Williams, 42, has yet to play a match on the tour this year and will miss Wimbledon for the first time since 2013. Hechtman said the decision to coach Serena Williams was made with the blessing of Venus. Although this is his first tournament with Serena, he realizes that no matter how long Serena has gone without participating, the goal isn’t just to perform and improve on last year.

“She’s a champion, right? And she’s playing Wimbledon for a reason,” he said. “Just like I think everyone who goes into the tournament, their goal is to win the event. And that is our goal.”

Williams also made that clear when asked what she thought was a “good result” at Wimbledon this year?

“You know the answer to that,” she said, smiling. “Come on.”

Still, Williams was vague throughout much of Saturday’s press conference, declining to give an exact date when she decided to play Wimbledon, saying only that she made the decision ahead of the French Open, which began in late May .

She also stayed away from political issues. Some prominent American athletes, including soccer star Megan Rapinoe and track and field athlete Allyson Feix, have offered their opinion on Friday’s Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

“I think that’s a very interesting question,” she said. “I have no thoughts that I’m willing to share on this decision at the moment.”

It was unclear why Williams chose not to respond. She is a Jehovah’s Witness, a religious denomination whose members identify as Christians and who believe the Bible teaches them to remain politically neutral. But Williams didn’t cite her religion as a reason to withhold her opinion on Saturday.

Her reticence was in sharp contrast to American Coco Gauff, 18, who showed up in the main interview room later in the day. Gauff, like another young tennis star, Naomi Osaka, has been eager to use her platform to speak out on social issues and on her way to the finals earlier this month made an appeal to end gun violence during the French Open.

“Of course I’m disappointed with the decision,” said Gauff about the BGH ruling. “Of course I feel bad for future wives and wives now, but I also have a guilty conscience for those who have protested, I don’t even know how many years ago, but who have protested and are still alive to see that this decision will be reversed.”

Gauff added: “I feel like we’re almost going backwards.”

But she called for activism. “I still want to encourage people to speak up and not get discouraged because we can definitely make a change and hopefully a change will come.”

Williams also hesitated when asked about Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players this year because of the war in Ukraine. The list of those who have been banned includes Sasnovich, the Belarusian who faced Williams on Center Court last year.

“Another heavy subject that, as far as I know, involves a tremendous amount of politics and government,” Williams said. “I will refrain from that.”

What she will do at Wimbledon is a step back into Grand Slam tennis. Her first-round game against Harmony Tan of France at No. 113 is scheduled for Tuesday, most likely on Center Court. And although Williams, the longtime No. 1, is now in four figures (1204), despite her dismissal she will still have the be the favorite on the pitch.

She’s back, no doubt. The question is how long? When asked if this was her last Wimbledon, Williams stuck to her Saturday mood: elusive.

“You know, I don’t know,” she said. “All I can tell you is that I’m here. Who knows where I’ll show up next? You just have to be ready.”

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