Serena Williams described her comeback match in Abu Dhabi on Saturday as “perfect” and said she was proud of herself for stepping on court so soon after having her first child.
The American superstar lost a tight exhibition match against Jelena Ostapenko at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Saturday, less than four months after the birth of her daughter Alexis Olympia.
Serena, one of the greatest tennis players to ever pick up a racquet, confessed to “trepidation” at the start of the match, and described how tough it is to get back to training after giving birth.
“I can’t rate my performance. I’ve had a lot of comebacks, from surgery, foot surgeries, knees, but I’ve never had a comeback from actually giving birth to a human being. So in my eyes I feel like it was a wonderful match for me,” the 36-year-old said in Abu Dhabi.
“For me it’s all about physical, how do I physically feel, how am I moving, how am I physically recovering, so for me that’s kind of more what it is for me. Rating wise, I can’t give myself a rating. I just am really proud of being out here, being able to play in Abu Dhabi, being able to just compete. I had a really tough few months and I’m just really excited to be out here.”
Serena was not moving well at the start of the match against the Latvian Roland Garros champion but that aspect of her game improved as the showdown progressed.
“Yes, that was a really good thing. In the beginning it was a little tough, I also think I had a ton of trepidation out there, but as the match moved on I was less afraid.
“I was like ‘I’m not going to fall over and break , I’m going to be okay’ and the more I played, the more confident I felt. And the more I was able to go for shots that I was afraid to go for in the first set.
“So I think that was really good and I feel like this was a wonderful opportunity for me to kind of test to see where I am. Not only physically but mentally, mentally you have to get over that hump of like ‘go for the shot, you’re going to be okay’. It’s a lot that goes through a female’s body after you have a baby so I think it was perfect.”
On her part, Ostapenko, the current world No. 7, was thrilled she finally got to face her idol, in a singles match, and praised Serena’s performance.
“I think she was playing pretty good for being out for a long time. I mean she’s such a great champion and such a talented player, so I think not many players can play at such a high level after being out for a long time,” said the 20-year-old.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) December 30, 2017
Serena assured she is “not done yet” with the sport while adding that she has nothing to prove. Still, she is just one Slam away from equaling Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles. Court won three majors after having a baby, in the 1970s, but Serena refuses to draw any comparisons with the Australian, noting the fact that Court competed in a completely different era, “a very long time ago”.
“Now I’m just taking it one day at a time for me. I think being a mom is something incredibly special and I’ve embarked on a really good journey. It’s probably the best journey of my life and I love it so much. It’s pretty awesome,” said Serena.
Kevin Anderson broke the roll call of past champions at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship to become the first player other than Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, to win the season-opener in Abu Dhabi.
Fitting, perhaps, on the tournament’s 10th anniversary in the UAE capital that a new name should be etched into the history books.
And Anderson, who at the age of 31 is playing the best tennis of his career, was deserving of an impressive 6-4, 7-6 (0) win over Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut under the lights at Zayed Sports City on Saturday night.
It was just about the perfect few days for the South African, who beat Pablo Carreno Busta and Dominic Thiem — two players ranked higher than him – on his way to victory on his second appearance at the event.
“I’ve played three very good matches here this week and I thought the final was of high-quality. Both of us are really looking forward to the start of the season and it’s such a great opportunity to come here to Abu Dhabi,” Anderson, the 2017 US Open finalist, said during his on-court interview.
“Everybody competed really hard, it’s a terrific atmosphere so hopefully I’ll be able to come back more times in the future. I see that there were lots of South Africans in the crowd supporting me all week, and it’s fantastic to see tennis thriving in this part of the world.”
With injuries to the likes of Murray, Djokovic and Nadal, the world number 14 could well be one of the experienced men, but an outsider, looking to do some damage on the fast courts of Melbourne at the Australian Open next month.
“Yes, definitely (using win as springboard going into new season). I just want to thank everybody at the tournament, a special thanks to sponsor Mubadala and it’s just a really good event to be part of.”
Bautista Agut, equally, was in a positive mood after more than playing his part in a competitive showpiece occasion.
He said: “I’ve had some great support here, I really enjoyed playing on this court so thanks a lot to everyone over these three days. It’s a really good event to come and play and I’ve had a good experience here. It’s important to play strong matches going into 2018 and I’m very happy to play the final.”
Serena Williams admits she’s taking her comeback “one day at a time” and is uncertain when she will feel completely ready to return to the tour but assured she is “not done yet”.
The American legend made her first public appearance on a match court since having her first child Alexis Olympia early September, by taking on Jelena Ostapenko at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
Serena, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, lost 6-2, 3-6, [10-5] to the world No. 7, in what was her first match since winning the Australian Open 11 months ago.
“It felt good to be back out there. I missed playing, I missed the competition, I missed the crowd, the atmosphere, it’s so much that you don’t see so it was really nice to be back out there,” the 36-year-old told reporters after the match.
It is the first time Serena travelled to a tournament with her baby and she confessed her mind wandered to her child while she was on 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,” said Serena.
“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.”
That statement implies Serena is keen to return to the tour and continue playing until her daughter is old enough to show up to matches but the American was more reserved when discussing her imminent plans, particularly whether she plans on defending her Australian Open title in Melbourne in less than three weeks’ time.
“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 when asked where she was heading next after Abu Dhabi.
When quizzed about whether she’ll play in Melbourne, the ex-world No. 1 said: “I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m going to assess everything with Patrick (Mouratoglou her coach) and my team and go from there.”
Serena would not reveal exactly when she started training again. Against Ostapenko, she started moving better as the match went on, but she admits she still has a way to go.
“I don’t know if I’m totally ready yet or not (to get back to the tour). When I come back, I definitely want to be competing for championships. Somebody asked me the other day when I started and I couldn’t remember, and I still can’t remember. I guess it’s kind of all a blur,” said Serena.
“When you have the baby and you’re training, and then you go back to the baby, it’s been a while. I don’t know. But I definitely look forward to getting back out there.”
"I’m taking it one day at a time" pic.twitter.com/4xRNcA9VLf
— Sport360° (@Sport360) December 30, 2017
While Serena may sound sceptical when discussing details about her return, she is clear about one thing — she is not done yet with the sport.
“I think everything is so much easier for me to approach (my comeback) having my daughter at home waiting for me and knowing that yeah I’ve won 23 Grand Slam singles title, I don’t know how many other titles… I don’t have anything to prove but I just want to go out there and play. I’m not done yet, so…” she says.