Serena Williams has revealed she is 20-weeks pregnant with her first child by sharing a close up of her growing bump on Snapchat.
The world No 2 has not played since the Australian Open in January where she beat sister Venus 6-4, 6-4 for her 23rd grand slam title. Last month the American pulled out of Indian Wells and Miami Open citing a knee injury.
The tennis superstar will not play again in 2017 but will return to the tour in 2018, her spokeswoman said.
Kelly Bush Novak told Reuters that Williams "definitely" would not be able to play again this year but "looks forward to returning in 2018."
BREAKING: Serena Williams is pregnant. Makes sense after she pulled out of so many tournaments. Won't be back till 2018. Maybe never?! pic.twitter.com/ZW0UHeRK92
— Uche Amako (@UcheAmako) April 19, 2017
Williams, who will return to the No 1 ranking in the world next week, deleted the selfie shortly after posting it. She waited more than six hours to make any public comment, stoking furious debate among tennis fans about whether or not she was joking.
"I'm happy to confirm Serena is expecting a baby this fall," Bush Novak said.
Williams announced in December that she was engaged to Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit, the social messaging site.
Williams will be 36 in September and has achieved every milestone possible during an illustrious career.
So happy for @serenawilliams ! She deserves this. Whether or not she steps back on court again, she made history in so so many ways
— Barry Clarke (@Barry_Clarke93) April 19, 2017
Aside from winning Wimbledon and the Australian Open seven times she has also been world No 1 for 316 weeks in total which ranks her third in the Open era.
Some other supporters, meanwhile, were quick to work out that Williams was pregnant during her 23rd slam triumph in Melbourne in January.
— Terrill ™ (@TerrillCharming) April 19, 2017
Serena Williams was pregnant when she won her 23rd grand slam tournament at the Australian Open. And did not drop ONE SET. Let that sink in.
— ☇ASAP Sports News☇ (@ASAP_SportsNews) April 19, 2017
Congratulations to @serenawilliams on her latest news. You've done something I could never do ��❤️
— Not Roger Federer (@PseudoFed) April 19, 2017
Others teased that Williams announced the news on the day of Maria Sharapova's 30th birthday. The Russian is currently preparing for her return from a drugs ban at Stuttgart next week.
Serena Williams announces she is 20 weeks pregnant on Maria Sharapova's birthday. Now that's how you throw major shade & I love it. ������ pic.twitter.com/av9p5YIoSp
— #FeesMustFall (@MegaFunTweets) April 19, 2017
Williams lost the world No 1 ranking to Angelique Kerber earlier this year but is due to return to the top when the latest standings are published next Monday.
Serena Williams, at 5 months pregnant, will become World #1 on Monday. Also she won the Australian Open, while pregnant, w/o dropping a set
— Andrew Brydges (@ambrydges) April 19, 2017
Williams' announcement also comes a week after former world No 1 and recent first-time mum Victoria Azarenka revealed her plans to return to the tour in July.
The 27-year-old stepped away from the game last year after she became pregnant. Her son, Leo, was born in December.
Kim Clijsters famously returned from having her first child to win a second US Open in 2009.
But the Belgian is not the first sportswoman to return to the top of their sport after having a child.
Paula Radcliffe won the New York marathon in 2007 10 months after having a child. Kenyan athlete Catherine Ndereba broke the world records over 5km and 15km in 1998 a year after giving birth. Golfer Catriona Matthew won the British Open in 2009 when her second daughter was just 10 weeks old.
More recently Jessica Ennis-Hill and Jo Pavey have also proved that having a child does not always mean the end of your career.
At 35 years old, however, Williams is very much in the twilight of her career and appears highly unlikely, more to the pity, we will see her grace the court competitively again.