As part of the launching of the 2018 Australian Open Tuesday, tournament director Craig Tiley announced that the top 100 men and women will be in Melbourne for next year’s event.
It sounds good. But of course there’s no way he can guarantee that.
Certainly all of the top male players Tiley mentioned – Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori – have announced that they expect to be back and raring to go in 2018. All of them have cutt short their 2017 seasons due to injury.
But there’s no way to know.
Nevertheless, so many of the headlines Tuesday “confirmed” Serena Williams’ return after maternity leave at the first Grand Slam of the 2018 season.
(That’s the Independent, which may think Williams will give birth only in mid-October, given the Australian Open starts Jan. 15)
That’s the Melbourne Age, which quotes Tiley thusly:
“Her baby’s initials are AO (Alexis Ohanian) and she’s suggested she should also have her name on the 2017 trophy, so the AO is well and truly top of mind for her at the moment,” Tiley said.
Well, Williams didn’t actually do that. The Australian Open tournament Twitter did that.
“If anyone can do it, she can and I’m certainly not counting her out of a return come January,” Tiley added.
That sounds more reasonable.
Sort of, kind of, hope so, maybe!
Tiley never specifically confirmed Williams would play. But he didn’t unsay it, either.
“I’ve been in contact with all the top players and am pleased to announce we’ll have the full top 100 men and women returning to the Australian Open in January,” Tiley said. “It’s exciting to think Serena could return to defend her title after motherhood, and it’s also exciting to speculate on who can break through the pack to win.”
“Serena, the competitor that she is, she wants to win more than the 23 Grand Slam titles that she has. She was eight weeks pregnant when she played the Australian Open and very few people knew that,” he also said. “We have a special relationship with Serena, the Williams family, both her and Venus. She wants to come back in 2018 and defend her title. Obviously, at training now, there is several months to go and it will be up to her as far as where she is with her fitness.”
Before she gave birth, Serena Williams said – and coach Patrick Mouratoglou confirmed – that her intention was to return in Australia, just 4 1/2 months after giving birth.
Since then, as she enjoys the first months of Alexis Olympia Ohanian’s life, Williams hasn’t said anything one way or the other. Certainly Williams hasn’t posted anything on social media indicating she has returned to training.
But she did say that she spent six days in the hospital after the birth, which was probably unexpected.
The latest word from Serena to her fans doesn’t mention the Australian Open.
Today I bought my first bag of diapers. I felt so grown picking out the bag. I may have even looked around hoping someone saw me. Haha
You’d think, if she had already decided, that she’d have considered the Hopman Cup. It’s a relaxed, non-tournament, low-key way to ease back into the game – much like Roger Federer used it last January to return after a six-month absence.
So we’ll just have to wait until Williams is spotted somewhere Down Under in January to be certain.
Or, at least, wait for the lady herself to weigh in. She may also change her mind a few times between now and then – mother’s prerogative, you know.
Another local TV station said Williams had arrived at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach Thursday evening, and labour was induced then.
So the 2017 Grand Slam circle is complete.
Williams won the Australian Open in January while already nearly two months’ pregnant. And now, her daughter is born in the middle of the final Grand Slam of the season – with her sister very much still in contention.
Issam Haitham Taweel, a 27-year-old Egyptian who is ranked No. 700, wouldn’t have made for very good copy. And that’s if anyone could find him; he hasn’t played in two months. But it turns out that a serendipitous bit of luck checked in at No. 701 in the rankings Monday.
Former top-20 player Dmitry Tursunov, who has been trying to come back from injury for what seems like years, is in that spot. And the San Francisco-area resident, who is just 15 months younger than Serena at 34, has never shied away from saying what he thinks.
Better than 701
Tursunov said he didn’t think McEnroe was trying to denigrate women’s tennis. But he felt he had to point out out the reality that “men are stronger in general”
Would he win? He hopes he would.
“It would be a similar argument to: who would run faster, the fastest woman or the fastest man? Tennis is becoming more and more a physical sport, so it’s going to be hard for a woman to beat the men, he told BBC World Service Sport. “There are lots of factors to take into account. Physically I might not be in the best shape of my life but as an overall package I’m much better than my ranking would suggest.”
“I’ve never heard John say anything absolutely stupid; he knows his stuff.,” Tursunov added. “What he said about her being an incredible player is correct – explosive, powerful and she puts in a lot of work. But I would hope that I would win.”
The woman herself responded to McEnroe via Twitter.
Dear John, I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based.
“I don’t want to upset her or whatever it was. She’s — I think she was doing a tongue-in-cheek as well. And I think that deep down we’re talking about something — I can’t even believe we’re talking about it,” McEnroe said.
On the conference call, Gilbert added this:
” I don’t know what the context of why he said it, why he doubled-down on it. I will tell you (Serena) is the greatest female athlete in any sport ever, and maybe Steffi Graf is the second-best athlete,” Gilbert said. “Let’s say a 130-pound boxer might be the best ever. You don’t ask if he could beat, like, a heavyweight. He might be a better boxer than the heavyweight, but obviously he wouldn’t beat him. It’s totally ridiculous to ask or think about it. They don’t compete against each other.”
That’s a great analogy, actually.
On the same call, fellow American tennis Chris Evert also made a pretty good point.
“I feel like it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t mean anything. I also feel if – and I hate to say it – but if Serena Williams played the No. 200 male player, she might beat him. If she played the No. 500 man, she might lose to him,” Evert said. “It depends on their styles, how the games match up. So that’s my answer.”
Their two cents
Young American Tommy Paul, who has a long way to go before he has a playing resumé that will result in social media “allowing” him to have a say, had his say.
Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine, who is no stranger to this sort of opinion, picks Nick Kyrgios to drop a double bagel on Serena in a fictional match – or perhaps to be “gentlemanly enough” to cede a mercy game.
“Both sisters are great tennis players and hit the ball extremely well. However, if you’ve been playing on the men’s tour there are certain shots you can play that are going to put them in difficulty. Try and put a lot spin on the ball -– I was hitting the ball with a degree of spin they don’t face week-in, week-out,” Braasch wrote. “Another key is to chase down every shot. In our match, they were putting shots into the corners that on the women’s tour would be winners but I was able to return them.”
The bottom line is this: who is actually the better tennis player between Serena Williams and Braasch? And, whose career would you choose? It’s a no-brainer.
And in 2017, it’s really not worth debating again.
Serena Williams, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, and a story written by Buzz Bissinger in Vanity Fair.
That’s restaurant-quality stuff all around.
Williams, who is expecting her first child with fiancé Alex Ohanian this summer, poses for some amazing photos and talks about love.
Well, sort of. She’s circumspect about her feelings, but they shine through the piece. And Ohanian has no trouble talking about how he feels.
The pics of the two together are amazing.
The Vanity Fair baby bump has been done before – actress Demi Moore was the first, back in August of 1991 (can it really be almost 26 years ago?).
But Williams puts her own spin on it.
The American has had a few beaus in her life – she’s 35, after all – but her personal life has most often, admirably, been kept private.
A meet-cute love story
She lets it loose a little here. And once she inadvertently let the pregnancy news slip on Snapchat, she’s been generous in sharing her journey with her many fans.
It’s opened up a whole new dimension to her public persona. This is woman who always took such great pains to rarely show either exultation or disappointment once she left the court of play. She seems in genuine wonder and awe about this entire process.
In the story, which is a little gushing but extremely well written, she talks about taking six pregnancy tests before she was convinced.
Ohanian talks about the day he knew he wanted to marry her.
“I felt like a door had been opened to a person who made me want to be my best self. . . . I find myself just wanting to be better by simply being around her because of the standard she holds.”
Williams figured out Ohanian was going to propose on the plane to the place they had first met.
“I knew it was coming. I was like, ‘Serena, you’re 35, you’re ready. This is what you want.’ ”
When Williams found out she was pregnant just before the Australian Open, the doctor thought she might be 3-4 weeks pregnant. It turned out, when she was examined again upon her return to the U.S., that she was more like 7-8 weeks along. In winning the Australian Open, she didn’t lose a set. Already feeling her endurance taking a hit, she didn’t want to be pushed to three sets. And so she wasn’t.
She plans to be back for the 2018 Australian Open.
A century ago, when the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association formalized a policy barring African-American players, the American Tennis Association – the ATA – was born.
It had to be born.
As it celebrates its 100th anniversary, the oldest African-American sporting organization in the U.S. has ambitious goals.
And Serena and Venus Williams may play a major role in helping the organization cement its legacy.
The ATA wants to set down permanent roots to help ensure African-American kids get every opportunity to thrive in the sport.
To that end, it plans to build a new facility in south Florida. The location, subject to municipal procedures, is set for the city of Miramar’s regional park. The complex, to be called the ATA Tennis and Education Complex, will house the association’s relocated offices as well as a museum.
And it also will include a national training centre for promising young African-American players.
The first major news is the imminent announcement that the first inductee into the ATA’s new Hall of Fame will be … Richard Williams.
There will be a stadium court in the middle of the proposed new complex. And in appreciation of the court being named after their father, Tennis.Life has learned that daughters Venus and Serena intend to endow the project with a hefty sum – $1 million.
Now 75, Williams did the seemingly impossible when he brought daughters Serena and Venus from the pitted courts of Compton, California to sporting immortality.
“Everyone thought he was a buffoon, that his process was ridiculous, that his girls would never make it. And he proved them wrong,” former ATA executive director Albert Tucker told Tennis.Life.
Offices, a training centre and museum
The first two phases will cost about $7 million. First will be tennis courts and the ATA offices. Phase 2 will add more courts, and the museum.
“Not only will it be a permanent home, but it also will help the development of the city,” Tucker said. In addition to being an ATA member, Tucker also is vice-president of multicultural business development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The organization has been trying for decades to make this a reality. There were plans even as far back as 20 years ago in south Florida.
But the ATA’s visibility will increase with the Hall of Fame induction, the 100th anniversary and the significant gesture by the Williams sisters. So there may never be a better time to bring the project to fruition.
The Fort Lauderdale area was a natural for the project.
The ATA held a national tournament in the area the last five years. And more than 3,000 amateur and junior tennis players and their families took part. The contribution to the local economy did not go unnoticed.
There are more African-American kids playing tennis at the professional level than there have been in a long time.
No doubt that growth can largely be attributed to the success of the Williams family.
But who knows how many more players slip through the cracks?
“We need additional resources out there for these young people and their parents, additional conversations about what the process is. And a focus on reaching out to more individuals of colour,” Tucker said.
“The biggest thing, from a cultural perspective, is that it’s almost imperative that individuals understand the history so they can understand how certain things have transpired. But the (current) players don’t understand how we got to where we are.”
The museum will highlight the accomplishments of distinguished ATA alumni. But there are many more beyond Gibson and the late Arthur Ashe. The ATA was an integral part of the development of Zina Garrison, Chanda Rubin, MaliVai Washington and current USTA president Katrina Adams.
“Katrina’s first access to tennis wasn’t the USTA, it was the ATA,” Tucker said. “Lori (McNeil) and Zina were her mentors. And her name is in ATA history from the time she was a junior.”
Williams will be officially inducted Aug. 2 in Baltimore during the combined ATA centennial celebrations and national championships.
The joint ATP/WTA tournament in nearby Washington, D.C., is held the same week. The Citi Open benefits the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation as part of its philanthropic mission.
Tucker remembers Richard Williams bringing young Venus and Serena to the program’s courts to train, when their sister attended nearby Howard University.
“I learned a lot from him. But also I learned a lot about the sport. I learned about the discrepancy that exists in the narrative, depending on who was speaking,” Tucker said. “If we had more athletes into the game, more resources into the game, more direction for families and individuals and more of a comfort level in who they can talk to, it would help tremendously in getting more kids into the sport.”
The task of fundraising, with brick sales a part of the project, will officially begin there.
The sisters, to say the least, have given the effort a hefty head start.
“We have resources in the greater Fort Lauderdale community that are committed to the process,” Tucker said.
The ads roll out this month in Canada and the U.S. They also will hit international markets including Great Britain, France, Australia and Germany.
Williams could have delivered her lines in the first one with a little more pep. The one with all the jumping up and down on the bed is pretty funny.
She is by the most famous of the athletes and “regular people” involved. Canadian professional surfer Catherine Bruhwhiler, Paralympian Michelle Salt and two-time Olympic bobsledder Neville Wright are also part of the campaign.