Serena Williams ‘paved the way’ for mothers to keep playing after giving birth, says Martina Navratilova

Serena Williams in action Credit: PA Images
Serena Williams in action Credit: PA Images

Tennis great Martina Navratilova believes Serena Williams’ decision to continue playing tennis after becoming a mother has opened the door for other athletes to continue their careers after giving birth.

Shortly after winning her 23rd Grand Slam at the 2017 Australian Open, Williams announced that she was expecting her first child and she gave birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr in September.

The American returned to competitive tennis in February 2018 and after initially struggling to find form, she soon found her rhythm again as she reached the Wimbledon final in July, finishing runner-up to Angelique Kerber.

Williams reached four Grand Slam finals after giving birth, finishing runner-up in all four matches, and Navratilova feels the tennis icon has proved to others that they can return after becoming mothers, in stark contrast to the 70s and 80s when women retired once they became pregnant.

“For women it was either or, but now Serena proved you can have both. There are plenty of other mothers on the tour who have done really well,” she told CNN en Español’s Elizabeth Pérez.

“The biggest reason we didn’t see it – there are a couple – the care wasn’t there, the money wasn’t there, and also women just chose to have babies and then they didn’t come back.

“But now I think Serena kind of paved the way for motherhood and to still be an athlete. I think you will see more and more women playing well into their 30s, maybe into their 40s.”

Williams retired after this year’s US Open, but there are still several active mothers on the WTA Tour as Wimbledon semi-finalist Tatjana Maria is a mother of two, former world No 1 Victoria Azarenka returned after giving birth to her son in 2016 and former world No 2 Vera Zvonareva is also a mother of one.

However, it is not just motherhood that has received a boost in recent years as players are now able to take better care of themselves as they are earning a lot more than those who have come before them.

Navratilova was one of only a handful of players to compete after they turned 35 “back in the day”, but Williams played until she was 41 as did Roger Federer, who retired after the recent Laver Cup.

“With the money that’s in tennis, people can take better care of themselves,” Navratilova added. “Most of all, with the knowledge that we have about how to take care of our bodies much better – that will prolong players’ careers.

“Maybe [players will] not play as much every year but play longer and better quality as well. The care is there, the mental health, all of that is being addressed now much better than it was in my day.”

READ MORE: Michael Johnson explains why the legacy of Serena Williams will endure

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