Venus, Serena to play Fed Cup in NC

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MELBOURNE, Australia – Serena Williams will make her official return to tennis playing for her country.

The USTA announced Tuesday that Serena, sister Venus and Coco Vandeweghe are the first three nominees for the USA’s World Group I first-round tie against the Netherlands.

Asheville, NC, not too far from the sisters’ homes in Florida, will host the tie.

Their participation will undoubtedly give the event a boost even if the US team, minus the sisters, are the reigning Fed Cup champions after defeating Belarus in the final last November. And according to the venue’s ticketing website, it appears the 5,000 or seats for the two day event Feb. 10 and 11 are already gone.

So the Williams sisters are just value added. 

For them, it has the added bonus of counting towards their eligibility for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, without having to compromise their tournament schedule or involve much additional travel.

Vandeweghe was the top gun during the successful 2017 campaign.  The USTA will name the fourth member of the squad at a later date.

She’s finally back

Serena Williams hasn’t played an official match since winning last year’s Australian Open while two months’ pregnant. She returned exhibition in Abu Dhabi a few weeks ago against Jelena Ostapenko, but chose not to come to Australia for the first Grand Slam of the season while she continued to get match-fit after some tough postpartum health issues.

The original posters advertising the first-round Davis Cup tie in North Carolina didn’t have the Williams sisters. Ticket sales were still impressive.

She has played relatively little for the US during her long career. Serena has played Fed Cup only in six seasons: 1999, 2003, 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2015 (the first three came the year before an Olympic year).

Her last matches were nearly three years ago in Brindisi, Italy, a playoff tie to earn a promotion for the U.S. into World Group I.

Williams won both her rubbers against Camila Giorgi and Sara Errani. But Lauren Davis and then Christina McHale were unable to win the third, deciding singles rubber. And even Williams’ participation in the deciding doubles with Alison Riske wasn’t enough; they lost to Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta, and won just three games.

This will be the 10th year Venus Williams has played Fed Cup. But it will be her first tie since a quarterfinal round two years ago in Hawaii, right after the 2016 Australian Open. The U.S. easily defeated a Polish team that was without Agnieszka Radwanska on that occasion.

The Netherlands are led by Kiki Bertens, who was the No. 30 seed at the Australian Open and lost to No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the third round.

Serena Williams won’t give the Australian Open a go

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In the end, it’s just too soon.

Serena Williams, who had entered the Australian Open amid hopes that it would be her first tournament back since giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia four months ago, won’t be there.

It was a longshot anyway, despite Australian Open tournament Craig Tiley’s blithe assurances that she would be in Melbourne to defend her title.

But everyone knows better than to underestimate Williams.

“After competing in Abu Dhabi I realized that although I am super close, I’m not where I personally want to be. My coach and team always said ‘Only go to tournaments when you are prepared to go all the way’. I can compete – but I don’t want to just compete, I want to do far better than that and to do so, I will need a little more time,” Williams said in a statement released by the tournament.

“With that being said, and even though I am disappointed about it, I’ve decided not to compete in the Australian Open this year. The memory of last year’s Open is one that I will carry with me, and Olympia and I look forward to coming back again.”

Williams got a last-minute call to play an exhibition at the star-deprived Abu Dhabi men’s exhibition event last weekend.

She faced reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and lost in a match tiebreak after taking a set.

The fact that Williams is still home in Florida (where it’s unseasonably cold, and therefore not much good as preparation for the Australian summer) was a pretty good indicator that she wasn’t going to make it.

Tiley understanding

“The true champion Serena is has been demonstrated in the herculean efforts she has made over the past few months in her desire to play the Australian Open. Serena transcends the sport in the way she approaches all aspects of her life and consistently gives her all in everything she does. It was never going to be good enough for her to just compete, she wants to give herself the best chance to win,” Tiley said in a statement.

“I’ve been in constant contact with Serena and her team and know this is why she has pushed it and pushed it until the eleventh hour to make her final decision.”

Rusty but game, Serena is back

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Dressed all in black (with glitter-accessorized Nikes), Serena Williams returned to the court Saturday in Abu Dhabi.

It was an exhibition against reigning French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko, arranged late as a huge value-added feature to an event beleaguered by high-profile withdrawals.

While Williams bowed, 6-2, 3-6, 10-5 in the match tiebreak to her 20-year-old rival. But the victory was in being there less than four months after giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia.

“First matches back are always super incredibly hard, especially after having a baby, but it was great. I’m glad I could do it here,” she said in a post-match interview.

Slow but steady in return

Williams was tentative at first, not fully testing her post-baby core muscles by ratcheting up her powerful serve. Her movement also was tentative. But by the second set, she had already picked it up.

rustyAnd she was, as the Williams sisters love to say, “seeeeerious” about the enterprise.

But she was smiling, too. And rueful when she missed what, in full form, would be a routine shot.

Mostly, she looked happy being out there, doing what she does best (at least off the court).

“It was definitely a new experience. It played out pretty well. In the middle of the match I looked over and I was like ‘is Olympia okay?’ Because usually I’m always with her,” Williams told Sport360 and the other media in Abu Dhabi.

“So I don’t know how I’m going to be able to manage that, but maybe I’ll just always look over in the middle of a Grand Slam and be like ‘is Olympia okay?’ But when she gets older she’ll be able to actually come out to the matches.”

Here’s a link to a post-match interview video.

Is Melbourne the next stop?

Will Williams travel to Melbourne for the start of the Australian Open, which begins in just over two weeks was?

It’s hard to know whether her performance against Ostapenko was any kind of a determining factor. Just getting on court against a much younger rival, after such a long layoff, was a risky proposition. 

She could have, in theory, gotten crushed. You wouldn’t expect that to happen, just because she’s so good. But there was no way for her to know ahead of time how her body would respond. It’s all new territory.

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“I don’t know. I’m going to go and just assess what I want, and what I want to do and figure that out,” she said. “I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m going to assess everything with Patrick (coach Mouratoglou) and my team and go from there.”

The voracious competitor in Williams might have had its fuse lit by the match conditions and the big crowd. But everything has changed for the new mother now.

But it seems clear she intends to return and fight to add more to her historic career. The only question is when, precisely, that will happen.

Serena returns – in Abu Dhabi

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New mother Serena Williams hasn’t yet confirmed her return to action at next month’s Australian Open.

But on Christmas Eve, some three weeks before the start of the first Grand Slam of the season, there’s a sign of hope.

The 36-year-old Williams will play an exhibition against French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko on the final day of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 30.

That exhibition event once boasted Grand Slam champions Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka among its participants. But it now is down to just one – Djokovic.

The addition of Williams as a marquee name is an encouraging sign given the area of the world in which it will unfold.

It is the first time the all-male, six-player exhibition has featured a match involving two women. That’s part of a minor but still noteworthy trend over the last 12 months.

It joins a couple of other recent exhibitions involving women at all-male events. Venus Williams played Genie Bouchard at the Atlanta ATP tournament last July. And in February, Bouchard and Sloane Stephens will join veterans John McEnroe and James Blake at an exhibition to kick off the New York Open.

Beyond that, though, the news can be interpreted – at the very least – as a sign that Williams is closer to a return to tournament action.

The canned press-release quote doesn’t go that far, though.

“I am delighted to be returning to the court in Abu Dhabi for the first time since the birth of my daughter in September. The Mubadala World Tennis Championship has long marked the beginning of the men’s global tennis season and I am excited and honoured to be making my comeback as part of the first women to participate in the event. I look forward to seeing the fans in Abu Dhabi at the 10th Edition of the Championship very soon.”

Ostapenko, who layed an exhibition in Hua Hin, Thailand this weekend, also had a quote.

“I am thrilled to be playing in Abu Dhabi at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship. This will be the first time that women have taken part in the event and it is a huge honour to be part of that history after watching the tournament for many years. Last season was really incredible for me and I cannot wait to continue the start of my new season at such an amazing event.”

(These press-release quotes are pretty entertaining, aren’t they? There’s almost no chance the women actually said these exact things).

Will she, or won’t she?

Williams has not played a competitive match since she defeated her sister Venus in the Australian Open women’s singles final 11 months ago.

She was about two months’ pregnant at the time. 

The longtime world No. 1 is officially entered in the Australian Open. Tournament director Craig Tiley has made encouraging, near-definitive statements that she will indeed play. But there has been no confirmation from the lady herself.

Williams’ daughter, Alexis Olympia, will be 4 1/2 months old when the Australian Open begins.

Mrs. Ohanian has dream wedding

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All brides are beautiful. And everyone looks happy at their wedding, of course.

But doesn’t it feel like Serena Williams just seems … over the moon as she made it legal with Alexis Ohanian Thursday in New Orleans?

Just beaming.

The rights to photograph the wedding went to Vogue. And they’ve got a 50-plus slideshow of photos from the ceremony and reception up already.

The wedding day was the ninth anniversary of the passing of Ohanian’s mom. It was just one of those picture-perfect details of the event that looked to be bursting with them.

The story that accompanies the photos has Williams all gushy and wedding-y and making sure the chemistry is right with the wedding planner and all these things you just never imagined Williams saying.

It doesn’t actually sound like her saying the. But of course we’ve never heard “Bridal Serena” before.

Williams been rather circumspect about her love interests over the years. And even in the early days of courtship with Ohanian, she always seemed to act so casual about it.

He, on the other hand, made no secret of how besotted he is.

But just look at her. At age 36, she has the handsome prince and the beautiful baby girl and the dream wedding that looked perfect down to the last detail. So it was all worth waiting for.

And have you ever seen her mother Oracene Price look more beautiful? And sisters Venus and Isha? 

Now … will we see Serena in January in Australia? It’s just two months away.

Daily Mail: Serena to tie knot Thursday

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It’s the Daily Mail, so take it as a “watch this space” more than a definite “save the date”.

But the British newspaper appears to have an impressive amount of details about a wedding on Thursday in New Orleans between Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian.

(If you can’t trust a guy named “Sebastian Shakespeare”, who can you trust?)

The Daily Mail had a scoop last month about Williams and Ohanian making a quick trip to New Orleans to scout wedding locations, and leaving by private jet. (They left the baby at home, but brought Chip).

Among the secret details of the reported Thursday nuptials:

*Wedding guests will include Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Kris Jenner (mother of the Kardashians)

*It’s all so top secret that the guests won’t even know where the wedding will take place until the day, although the Daily Mail says it has the venue nailed down.

*Williams signed an exclusive deal with Vogue’s Anna Wintour to run the wedding photos. So no cell phones allowed.

Lots more minute details in the newspaper’s exclusive, here.

Williams fierce in NYC

Meanwhile, Williams was in New York Monday night for the Glamour Women of the Year Awards.

And she looked amazing.

knot

 

Serena in Oz – will she, or won’t she?

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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.

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(That’s the Independent, which may think Williams will give birth only in mid-October, given the Australian Open starts Jan. 15)

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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.”

Still, that didn’t stop the headlines. They’re everywhere.

The tournament’s Twitter stated it emphatically.

Here’s Channel 9 in Australia:

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And the Daily Mail:

Serena

And The Guardian:

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Baby changes everything

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.

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.

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Serena announces daughter’s name

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Naming her baby girl Serena Jr. would have put a whole lot of pressure on a newborn.

But as it turns out, Serena Williams’ fiancé has a perfectly gender-neutral name. And so the new bundle of joy will be called Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

(Probably not a tyical thing to have a daughter be named “junior” after her father – but why not? Great idea, and very evolved).

Williams also revealed on the Instagram announcement that there were “a lot of complications” after the birth. And she spent nearly a week in hospital.

And the baby already has a video of the leadup, with lots of never-before seen goodies.

Another tennis baby: welcome Tara Djokovic

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NEW YORK – Who could have imagined, in the space of 24 hours, that two legendary champions would become parents?

In Novak Djokovic’s case – for the second time.

Less than a day after Serena Williams gave birth to a baby girl, Novak Djokovic’s wife Jelena had a baby girl of her own. There’s already a name: Tara.

Maybe, two decades down the road, there will be two little champions making their moves at the US Open, as the both turn 20.

Serena’s little girl, of course, will always be able to brag that she’s one day older.

Congratulations to the Djokovics, and to Williams and fiancé Alexis Ohanian.

With all the crazy news happening on court this week, it kind of brings a sense of wonder and normalcy to things, doesn’t it?

It’s a girl for Serena Williams

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NEW YORK – Less than an hour before sister Venus Williams arrived on Arthur Ashe Stadium to play her third-round match against Maria Sakkari of Greece, little sister Serena had an arrival of her own.

And it’s a girl.

According to Chris Shepherd, a senior news producer at WPBF 25, a television station in Palm Beach, Fla., Serena gave birth to a baby girl weighing 6 pounds, 13 ounces Friday afternoon.

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.