A year is a long time off the tennis court for any player. This year is much more significant when it coincides with her 40th birthday, a sentiment Serena Williams will become familiar with when she returns to the circuit on Tuesday.
After nearly 12 months on the sidelines, Williams is reigniting his goal of winning a 24th major title at Wimbledon next week. She is starting to play doubles with world number 3 Ons Jabeur in Eastbourne, in what she hopes will be a lighthearted warm-up as she returns to competitive tennis.
It’s a world she’s been totally absent from and extremely quiet while she’s been on the fringes for the past year. Where other players dip their toe in comments or comments over long stretches of injury, or even sporadically post on social media about significant results, Williams’ attention is elsewhere.
Williams the businesswoman has been working full steam ahead. The LA women’s soccer club she invested in, Angel City, finally took the field. She has raised $111 million to launch her venture capital fund, Serena Ventures, which will invest in founders with diverse views. And she was linked as an investor in a failed attempt to buy Chelsea FC. All this alongside running his existing eponymous fashion brand, getting involved in NFTs, as well as promoting the Oscar-winning film ‘King Richard’ which portrayed his family’s life story.
And yet, there is still an urge to play tennis again. There were fears that she was on the brink of retirement earlier this year, particularly in April when her 10-year-old manager Patrick Mouratoglou left his camp to take over coaching former Wimbledon champion Simona Halep. But Williams made the tennis world talk last week when she announced her sudden return to the court. She’s been working with Eric Hechtman – a trainer to Sister Venus – as she prepares for her cameo during the height of the tennis calendar.
A year after the dramatic scenes on center court where she slipped and injured and was forced to retire from the first round, there is some skepticism in the locker room about how well she can do in SW19 this time around. “It’s a long time and she’s not the youngest anymore, so I’m guessing the body takes some time to get back into shape too,” 2021 Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova said on Monday. “Playing matches in tournaments is still very different from just practicing… I think it’s going to be hard, super hard for her no matter what kind of player she is, because that’s one thing you still need some time on. But it’s Of course, she’s an amazing player, she’s accomplished a lot and yet a lot of players will be too scared to play her.”
Jabeur, who has known of her partnership with Williams since before the French Open, was more confident in the seven-time Wimbledon champion’s ability to react. “A lot of players were jealous because I’m playing with her,” she said. “Honestly, Serena is Serena. She’s a legend and will always be. She’s done a lot for our sport and I really respect, respect her history, respect everything she’s been through. I hope I can learn even 2% from it.”
Jabeur and Williams will face Sara Sorribes Tormo and Marie Bouzkova on Tuesday night and, in Jabeur’s mind, even the title is within reach: “I’m very excited, I want to win this duo and why not win the title here, you know? “