Wimbledon, England. At first glance, at Wimbledon on Saturday, everything looked as usual.
Two days before the start of this Grand Slam tournament, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal practiced on nearby grass courts with the spire of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Church of St. Mary for the background.
As the two longtime rivals practiced under the English sun, Serena Williams took her place under the spotlights in the main interview room, as she had done so many times before.
But while it will be her 21st Wimbledon, it will be an event like no other for Williams. She returns to the All England Club at 40, having not played a singles match since last year’s Wimbledon, when she tore her right hamstring after slipping during the first set of a first round match, which she was unable to complete on Center Court.
I asked Williams how much she was motivated during her return by wanting to give herself another memory at Wimbledon?
“It’s always been something since the match ended, it’s always been on my mind,” she said. “So that was a huge motivation.”
Center Court, which is 100 years old and still the most atmospheric spectacle in the professional game, has been the scene of many triumphs for Williams, who has won seven Wimbledon singles titles.
But it was all about pain and disappointment last year. She was in tears when she tried to continue after the injury and was in tears again after being forced to stop the match against Alexandra Sasnovich. Although Williams was able to limp off the court, she stumbled while leaving the grass and needed assistance to get to the walkway leading out of the clubhouse.
“You never want a match to end like this,” Williams said. “It’s really unfortunate, but it was definitely something that was always on my mind.”
It took a year for her to return to the tour, withdraw from three consecutive Grand Slams, and spark understandable speculation about whether she intended to continue playing tennis at all.
“I didn’t retire,” she said on Saturday, choosing her words carefully. “I had no plans, to be honest. I just didn’t know when I’d be back. I didn’t know how I would get back. Obviously Wimbledon is such a great place and it somehow worked.”
Since her most recent appearance at the All England Club, she’s barely had a break, juggling motherhood — her daughter Olympia is now 4 — and business ventures, including Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm that specializes in investing in companies whose founders come from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
“Part of me feels like it’s a little more of my life now than tournaments,” she said of her interests outside of tennis. “When you have a venture capital company, you have to go for broke. It definitely takes literally all of my extra time. And it’s fun. I’m currently out of work for the next few weeks, so if you email me you’ll get a nice “out of office” response. Everyone knows that I will be back in a few weeks. But it’s good”.
Williams has also parted ways with Patrick Mouratoglou, a famous Frenchman who has been coaching her for the past 10 years. Muratoglu is currently working with Simona Halep, the former world number one. 1, who put in perhaps the best performance of her career, defeating Williams in straight sets in the 2019 Wimbledon final.
Williams is currently coached by Eric Hechtman, a former University of Miami tennis player who is the longtime director of tennis at the Royal Palm Tennis Club in Miami. He has known Williams and her older sister Venus for nearly 15 years and has been training Venus Williams since 2019.
Hechtman now coaches both of them, 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 start coaching Serena Williams was made with Venus’ blessing. Although this is his first tournament with Serena, he clearly understands that the goal is not only to show himself and improve from last year, no matter how long Serena has not competed.
“She’s a champion, right? And she plays at Wimbledon for a reason,” he said. “Like I think, anyone who participates in a tournament has the goal of winning the tournament. And that’s our goal.”
Williams made that clear when asked what she considers a “good result” at Wimbledon this year?
“You know the answer to that question,” she said, smiling. “Let’s do now.”
However, Williams was deliberately vague throughout much of Saturday’s press conference, refusing to give the exact date she decided to play at Wimbledon, saying only that she made the decision before the French Open, which began at the end of May.
She also avoided political topics. Some notable American female athletes, including soccer star Megan Rapino and track and field star Allison Fakes, expressed their opinion on Friday, the Supreme Court’s decision to set aside Roe v. Wade.
“I think this is a very interesting question,” she said. “I don’t have any thoughts that I’m willing to share right now about this decision.”
It was not clear why Williams chose not to answer. She is a Jehovah’s Witness, a religious faith whose members consider themselves Christians and believe that the Bible teaches them to remain politically neutral. But Williams did not cite her religion on Saturday as the reason she left her opinion.
Her restraint contrasted sharply with 18-year-old American Coco Gauff, who appeared in the main interrogation room that same day. Gauff, like another young tennis star, Naomi Osaka, has been keen to use her platform to speak out on social issues and launched a call for an end to gun violence during the French Open on her way to the final earlier this month. .
“I am clearly disappointed with this decision,” Gauff said of the Supreme Court ruling. “Obviously I feel sorry for future women and women now, but I also feel sorry for those who protested for this, I don’t even know how many years ago, but who protested for this and lived to see this decision be reversed. “.
Gauff added, “I feel like we’re almost moving backwards.”
But she called for activity. “I still want to encourage people to use their voice and not get too upset about it because we can definitely make changes and hopefully they will come.”
Williams also countered when asked about Wimbledon’s decision to suspend Russian and Belarusian players this year due to the war in Ukraine. The banned list includes Sasnovich, a Belarusian who faced Williams last year on Center Court.
“Another big topic that includes a huge amount of politics, as I understand it, and government,” Williams said. “I’m going to move on from this.”
At Wimbledon, she will step back into Grand Slam tennis. Her first round matchup against 113th-placed Harmony Tan of France is scheduled for Tuesday, most likely on center court. And even though Williams is long gone. 1, now with a four-figure rating (1204), she will be the favorite on grass despite being fired.
She’s back, no doubt. The question is how long? Asked if this was her last Wimbledon, Williams remained in tune with her Saturday mood: elusive.
“You know, I don’t know,” she said. “I can only tell you that I am here. Who knows where I’ll show up next? You just have to be ready.”