The 2018 BNP Paribas Open is set to be marked by Serena Williams’ first match on the WTA tour since the birth of her daughter Alexis Olympia, so I wanted to discuss just how difficult it is for a woman who has only recently given birth to play competitive tennis at top level. I was inspired for this topic when I read BBC’s interview with Mandy Minella, another new mom on tour, who was open to describe all the challenges she’s facing.
Everyone knows how much pressure pregnancy and delivery put on a woman’s body, but the real challenges actually start with the baby’s arrival! Being a mom is a 24/7 job and I honestly admire all WTA players who manage to bounce back so quickly. A mom’s position vitally depends on her support system, i.e. how many reliable people she has to jump in and help with the baby feeding, bathing, diaper changing, etc., but even with all the help you can get, being a responsible mom is very demanding and juggling in a tennis career is not for faint-hearted.
Luxembourg’s Minella, just like Williams, continued to play tennis after finding out about pregnancy and now that she’s had some post-pregnancy experience in competition, having resumed her career just 99 days after giving birth to daughter Emma Lina, let’s hear about her biggest struggles.
Minella was at first shocked by how much her form had deteriorated:
The feeling of the ball was not there at all. My muscles were not reacting and my whole core was gone. It felt as though no muscles or nerves were reacting in my hand or my arm.
Luckily, the body didn’t need much time to recover:
My body improved quite quick. My muscles remembered what they needed to do and it started to get better.
Even though the 32-year-old Minella receives help from her husband Tim and his mother, sleepless nights are unavoidable and knowing that you have a tennis match the following day makes the situation even more stressful:
I have found it harder than I thought. I’m a very positive person and presumed things would be manageable. If she wakes up during the night before a match, it’s not great because it’s hard to get back to sleep knowing you have to play soon.
Serena Williams is out of this world, as we all know, I mean, she won the Australian Open while being pregnant, but just how high expectations can we have of her this week at Indian Wells? Let’s not forget that her delivery was an emergency Cesarean section and she barely survived because of her blood clots. For me, the very fact that she’s already playing, after giving birth six months ago, is spectacular.
There are, however, aspects of being a parent that seem to encourage tennis players to perform better than before, as Minella explains:
I think about Emma all the time when I’m playing, but I like it because it is relaxing. I’m more calm on court now, my expectations are still high but I’m not so nervous about results anymore.
Just to note, Serena has already played an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi and lost it to Jelena Ostapenko, then she lost a Fed Cup doubles match in February and yesterday she won against Marion Bartoli during the Tiebreak Tens exhibition in Madison Square Garden, before falling to Zhang Shuai in the semifinals. All these results are not an indicator of Serena’s current form, but they’re worth mentioning. Serena’s first opponent in her first big tournament since the 2017 Australian Open will be Kazakh world No.53 Zarina Diyas.
What do you think, what can we expect from Serena’s career now that she’s become a mom?
Let me remind you, we’ve had a fair share of insanely successful tennis moms: Kim Clijsters won three of her four Grand Slam titles after giving birth to daughter Jada, (by the way, I’m in awe that the former world No.1 is now a mom of three, living a peaceful life in Belgium, with chicken, pigs and stuff, as Svetlana Kuznetsova funnily revealed in a recent interview), Lindsay Davenport won the 2007 Bali title only three months after giving birth to her first child, while Tatjana Maria made her greatest career successes after becoming a mom to a beautiful baby girl Charlotte in 2013 and even last weekend the German claimed a doubles title in Acapulco.