Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the return to tennis of Serena Williams at the 2018 BNP Paribas Open.
Finally, after a mere 15 months, Serena Williams stepped once again on a tennis court this past week and, as she had so many times before, proceeded to emerge victorious.
Oh we say finally but this is mostly for us: the 36-year-old had stepped away over a year ago in order to give birth to a daughter, the kind of life events that tend to put things in perspective. This isn’t to say that the great champion doesn’t care so much for tennis anymore. She’s still here and playing after, isn’t she?“ It was incredible,” she said after her first-round win, her first as a mother. “It’s been over a year and a kid later – and I get to go home now to her!”
That’s probably where the nuance lies. Whereas for us it’s finally great to see her play tennis again, in her mind it’s probably finally great to come back to her daughter after playing tennis.
In any case, Serena Williams is back after a year away from the sport to which she’s given so much over the years. And quite tellingly, she’s decided to come back to action in Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas Open, a tournament with which she had a fractured for 14 years before a return to the event in 2015. Knowing this, Serena’s upcoming clash with her sister Venus in the third round takes on greater significance but more on this later.
“Obviously, I wish it was anybody else in the draw.”
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 11, 2018
Her return begs the question of why come back, why now in 2018 after so many years of success and competition, after a first child, and when there’s so little left for her to accomplish?
Well for one thing, the latter isn’t completely true.
As she comes back and continues playing, Serena is likely to encounter one major milestone. She can perhaps add a 24th career Grand Slam title to her haul and maybe even a 25th, which would give her one more than Margaret Court and perhaps all the incentive we could all possibly need to simply move forward with our lives and banish Court and her prejudices back from whence they came.
But that’s not all. Maybe Williams will also want to rise through the ranks by adding to her 72 career titles (unlikely: Court is up next at 92) or catch up to Martina Navratilova if she manages to get back to No. 1.
In the time since we had last seen her play, a number of different players stepped into the limelight and the void created by her absence: Simona Halep lords over all now, Caroline Wozniacki has come back from the dead while Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova are all jockeying for pole position as tomorrow’s star.
This is the world Serena steps into in 2018. It’s one she’s been used to dominating throughout her playing career, with her winning three Grand Slams as recently as the 2015 season, and she’s presumably gone right back to work.
Where does she go from there? You want to say that she’s done all she possibly could, and for the most part it’s true, but there’s probably still one deep underlying motivation: after all, daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. has yet to see mommy play, right?
For now, Serena Williams is back, competing and winning matches once again. That ought to be enough. There are many different ways this comeback could go, with the one certainty being that she gets to face off against older sister Venus in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open. As for anything else, it’s just guesswork on our part.
But we’ll be there every step of the way.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG