WASHINGTON, December 31, 2017 (by Michael Dickens)
Serena Williams appeared excited to be back on the tennis court, less than four months after giving birth to her first child, a baby daughter named Alexis Olympia. By all accounts, the crowd that packed the International Tennis Center at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi was excited, too.
“Motherhood is phenomenal,” said Williams, during an on-court interview after her exhibition match against French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, won by the Latvian, 6-2, 3-6, 10-5. “I was a little worried out there and I looked at my camp and I was like ‘is Olympia okay?’ But it’s really good.
“I’m excited, it’s good to be back on the court. This was such a good time for me. It’s my first time playing in Abu Dhabi so thank you guys for the support.
“First matches back are always super incredibly hard, especially after having a baby, but it was great. I’m glad I could do it here.”
Two Sets Against Reigning French Open Champion
While it was just an exhibition for the former world No. 1 against current world No. 7 Ostapenko – it was the American’s first match of any kind in 11 months – there was much to be encouraged by her overall performance. With apologies to Kevin Anderson, the men’s champion of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, it was Williams who drew the biggest headlines here in the U.S. during a busy, end-of-the-year week of professional and collegiate sports.
With Abu Dhabi nine time zones ahead of Washington, D.C., I waited until the middle of Saturday afternoon – after watching back-to-back English Premier League football games – to see a replay of the Williams-Ostapenko match on Tennis Channel. It was nicely packaged into a 90-minute time slot, which aired several hours after it had concluded on Saturday night in Abu Dhabi. By then, I knew the outcome of the exhibition from checking my Twitter feed. Yet, it didn’t matter to me.
It seemed that Williams, who hadn’t played competitively since winning her 23rd Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open nearly a year ago, struggled with her movement on the hard court surface despite hitting some pretty good shots early against Ostapenko. By the second set, Williams had finally found her timing and she increased the speed on her serves, too. However, the third-set tie-break that ultimately decided the match was all Ostapenko’s as she jumped to a 5-0 lead and proved to be too strong for Williams.
“Taking It One Day At A Time”
Afterwards, Williams, whose ranking has dropped to No. 22 due to her inactivity, was coy when she was asked whether she will defend her title down under in Melbourne. She seemed not ready to commit to playing in 2018’s first Grand Slam event, and said she was “taking it one day at a time.” Well, the days are counting down quickly and the Australian Open begins in just two weeks on January 15. “I don’t know if I’m totally ready yet or not. When I come back I definitely want to be competing for championships,” she said.
During her honest and at times insightful post-match press conference, Williams was quoted as saying “I’m going to assess everything with Patrick (Mouratoglou, her coach) and my team and go from there.”
Williams went on to express that she felt good to be back out there, win or lose. “I missed playing, I missed the competition, I missed the crowd, the atmosphere. It’s so much that you don’t see so it was really nice to be back out there.”
While any grand slam tournament with Williams in the main draw becomes big news around the world, especially as she moves closer to eclipsing Margaret Court’s record of 24 career grand slam singles titles, let’s be honest. At age 36, she doesn’t have anything left to prove. However, it’s Serena’s competitive instincts that suggest to all of us she does want to go out there and play. She’s not done yet with the sport she has given so much to and received so much in return.
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.