Qualifying begins: 20 June
The Draw: 24 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 25 & 26 June
Order of Play: 26 June
Championships begin: 27 June
COME BACK FOR LIVE SCORES & LIVE BLOG FROM 20 JUNE
It was so Serena Williams: a post of her looking trim and toned in a swimsuit with – perhaps? Maybe? No one could quite be sure – the merest hint of a bump and the teasing caption “20 weeks”.
The Twittersphere went into meltdown while the post was quietly deleted. Eventually that evening, her “representative” confirmed that Serena was, indeed, expecting her first child in the autumn.
After a few quick calculations, it dawned on the tennis world that Serena had been around eight weeks gone in January, when she was beating her sister in the Australian Open final and winning her 23rd Grand Slam title.
So, at a time when mere mortal woman are taking up permanent residence in the bathroom with morning sickness, unable to look at piece of dry toast without fear or dread, the mighty Serena was rewriting history. But why were we surprised? She has made a career out of defying the odds and hoovering up any trophy she sets her sights on.
Tennis playing mums are not a new phenomenon. Margaret Court won three more major titles (all of them in 1973) after the birth of her first child in 1972; in 1980, Evonne Cawley became the first mother since Dorothea Lambert Chambers in 1914 to win Wimbledon and Kim Clijsters came out of retirement after the birth of her daughter, Jada, to win three Grand Slam titles between 2009 and 2011.
Then there is Victoria Azarenka – she gave birth to her son, Leo, before Christmas and has been back in training since March with a planned return to the tour in July. Serena, then, has plenty of people to turn to for advice when she starts her new career as a working mum.
But it is what happens between now and then – if Serena does decide that she wants to come back to the tour in 2018 – that has everyone wondering. Of those currently in the top 10, only Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza and Svetlana Kuznetsova have won a major title (five between them).
Of the rest, Karolina Pliskova, Dominika Cibulkova, Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska have reached a major final each, but only the once. Sister Venus, who is firmly in the Indian summer of her career, must be eyeing a first Grand Slam title since 2008.
One thing is clear: the stage has been cleared and it is up everyone with ambition to make their move.
Johanna Konta, Britain’s No.1 and the world No.7, knows that with Serena on maternity leave, this is an opportunity not to be missed.
“I think it's great news,” Konta said of Serena’s announcement. “Massive congratulations to her. Obviously she has been very dominant and that's just testament to what an amazing player she is. But I think there will be a lot of girls who will be competing very hard for those titles. I will try to be one of them.”
If she does come back, Serena will be heading for her 37th birthday, a time when most professional athletes are already retired. Then again, look at her sister: despite her medical problems (she is dealing with the auto-immune disease Sjögren’s Syndrome), she powered her way to the final in Melbourne at the age of 36 and shows no sign of slowing down. The Williams family is made of stern stuff. Age appears to be irrelevant to both women.
In fact, Serena is not fond of mentioning numbers at all. As she has chased down every record, she has refused point blank to talk about it. Only when that 23rd major trophy was safely in her arms did she confess just how much breaking the Open era record mean to her. But she soon clammed up when mention was made of Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slams – Serena did not want to talk numbers any more.
To come back from a year-long break is hard enough for any athlete but at the age of 35 it would seem nigh on impossible. But Serena has role models to look to. Roger Federer was side-lined with a knee injury for six months last year but came back at the start of this season better and more aggressive than before, winning his 18th Grand Slam title in Melbourne. He then followed that up with the ‘sunshine double’, the Indian Wells and Miami trophies, in March. Letting his body heal at its own pace for all those months worked wonders for the 35-year-old living legend.
Maybe for Serena, the chance to take the rest of the season off will give her one last shot at major glory when she comes back. If Margaret Court could come back from maternity leave and have one of the best seasons of her life back in the 70s, there is no saying that Serena cannot do the same.
If she does, she will match – and possibly better – Court’s record as well. You would not put it past her.
And it would be so Serena if she did.