Since her debut in 1995, Serena Williams has assembled the greatest career in the history of women’s tennis. But is that career now over? It has to be a possibility, after Williams seemed to reveal on Wednesday that she is pregnant.
The manner of the revelation was as atypical as everything else in Williams’s story. She used the social networking service Snapchat to post a picture of herself in a bright yellow bathing suit, with the simple caption “20 weeks”, but then took the message down soon afterwards, which may suggest that she had not intended the news to go public just yet.
There was no official word from her management company, either to confirm or deny. But the story spread quickly across the internet and soon the congratulations were flooding in from all quarters, both for Williams and for her fiancé Alexis Ohanian, the online entrepreneur who founded the Reddit network.
Williams’s fellow professionals will surely count among the most enthusiastic well-wishers. She has won two of the last three grand slam titles, and 10 of 19 since teaming up with her coach Patrick Mouratoglou in 2012. Even at 35, with knees that are missing most of their cartilage, she is still comfortably the world’s best player. Ironically, the complexities of the ranking system mean that she will climb one place to No 1 next week without even playing.
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
The desire in the Williams family is remarkable, as witnessed by Serena’s sister Venus, who remains just outside the top 10 at the age of 36 despite suffering from the auto-immune condition Sjogren’s Syndrome.
But will the younger Williams want to fight her way back to the top of the game in 2018, having become a mother some time around the US Open in early September? The real question relates to motivation: how much will she want her career back? Even Williams herself may not know the answer to that one yet.
However the story develops, the news will only add to the pressure on the women’s tour, which has had to put up with so many unscheduled absences over the past year.
Serena Williams is 20 weeks pregnant. Not many newborns can claim to have won the Australian Open as an embryo.— Oliver Brown (@oliverbrown_tel) April 19, 2017
Maria Sharapova is due back from her doping ban on Wednesday in Stuttgart, but Williams is the second leading player to fall pregnant after Victoria Azarenka, whose son Leo was born shortly before Christmas. The two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova has also been recuperating from the knife attack she suffered in December.
One unexpected beneficiary of Williams’s news could be Sharapova, whose chances of receiving wild cards to the next two grand slams have surely risen with the likely unavailability of her great nemesis.
Williams won the Australian Open in January to move to 23 major titles, one ahead of Steffi Graf. Now there is a possibility that the Melbourne final, in which Williams defeated her own sister Venus in straight sets, could prove to have been her swansong as a professional tennis player.
Meanwhile, Sir Andy Murray made a successful return to the match court in Monte Carlo, almost six weeks after his last appearance. Murray had been resting a right elbow injury, and the fact that he had not been able to practise his serve until the last few days was clearly a factor as he committed eight double faults against Gilles Müller.
But he still used his court craft to eke out a 7-5, 7-5 victory, and earn a meeting with Albert Ramos-Vinolas this morning.
Once Murray had finished, British No 3 Kyle Edmund showed off some gigantic forehands on the main court in an entertaining battle with nine-time Monte Carlo champion Rafael Nadal. After losing the first set without winning a game, Edmund turned the tables for a while, but still ended up going out 6-0, 5-7, 6-3.