London: Serena Williams admits she is still adjusting to the unique challenge of chasing an eighth Wimbledon title while making time for her baby daughter.
Williams is back at Wimbledon for the first time since giving birth to Alexis Olympia in September and the former world number one is having to get used to the increased demands on her time.
Few female players have succeeded at Grand Slam level after becoming mothers — only Kim Clijsters did it recently at the US Open in 2009, while Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley also won majors after giving birth.
The joys of being a mum haven’t dulled Serena’s fierce competitive instincts and, aiming to add to her haul of 23 major titles, she started her latest Wimbledon campaign with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Holland’s Arantxa Rus on Monday.
But the 36-year-old conceded it isn’t easy to come to terms with spending time away from her daughter to focus on tennis.
“It’s hard. I realised at Roland Garros, if the days were long, I was playing singles and doubles there, that was hard because I felt guilty,” she said.
“I was like, I haven’t seen Olympia, like what am I doing. If it’s the shorter days, now that I’m not playing doubles in this event, I have the day off, I think that will help.
“She definitely notices when I’m away. I’m there every day of her life. So she does get super excited when I come back in. You guys are making me miss her.
“I really don’t like being away from her. I also think it’s healthy in a way for me to do what I need to do, be that working mom, then go back home and be the mom.”
– ‘Good to be back’ –
Having endured complications from her daughter’s birth, Serena was playing only her second Grand Slam this year.
She won her first three matches at the French Open before pulling out due to a pectoral injury.
Since a 2014 third round loss to Alize Cornet, Serena has now won 15 successive matches at Wimbledon — she took the title in 2015 and 2016 before missing last year’s tournament due to her pregnancy.
Twenty years after making her Wimbledon debut, there were a few signs of rust against Rus and Serena was pleased to get her first Wimbledon match as a mother out of the way.
“I didn’t think about that actually. But it felt good to play, just to be back on the grass. Two years, over a year. It definitely felt good,” she said.
Williams is the second oldest player in the women’s draw, but even motherhood can’t persuade her to consider retiring when she sees Swiss star Roger Federer thriving at the same age.
“I’m just playing until Roger stops. Gosh, how long? Did he put a time limit on it?” she said.
“We in it. We in it together. As long as he’s here, I’m going to try to be here.”
For now, Serena hopes a deep run at Wimbledon will persuade her friend Meghan Markle to watch her in action.
Williams was a guest at her wedding to Prince Harry at Windsor Castle in May and joined the new Duchess of Sussex to watch a polo match over the weekend.
Wimbledon is favourite event of the royal family and asked if Markle might be seen supporting her over the next fortnight, Serena smiled: “I don’t know. We’ll see. If I keep winning!”