Chinese great Li Na backed Serena Williams to pull off a quickfire return to tennis after the birth of her first child — but said there was no way she could have rushed back to the sport.
Williams, 36, has spoken of her “outrageous” plans to defend her title at the Australian Open in January, less than five months after giving birth to her baby daughter on September 1.
Li, who announced she was pregnant two months after retiring in 2014, said she wouldn’t have been able to leave her own young daughter, adding that she had probably only hit a tennis ball 10 times since quitting the sport and becoming a mother.
“Serena can fix everything,” Li said, referring to the challenge of being a tennis-playing parent. “But if I think about myself, I couldn’t do that. With a baby so young, I couldn’t leave them.”
Asked if she missed tennis, the two-time Grand Slam-winner told reporters at the Wuhan Open that she hankered after the “fight and competition” but that she had left that side of herself behind.
“Now I just follow,” said Li, whose daughter is now two and who also has a baby son.
Other former stars have wondered whether Williams, a 23-time major-winner, would be able to regain top form so soon after having her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian.
Kim Clijsters, who retired for two years and became a mother before returning to win the 2009 US Open, said it depends on “how your body reacts — everybody reacts different in those situations”.
American Mary Joe Fernandez also said she could not have played as a mother to young kids but that “Serena is an exception to a lot of rules”.
But Williams’s good friend Caroline Wozniacki said the new mother remained “focused” on her comeback.
“I think she’s going to do a strong comeback but I think at the same time she’s enjoying being a mum as well and getting that whole experience. I think it’s very special,” Wozniacki said in Wuhan.
Li, a native of Wuhan and a global ambassador for her hometown tournament, appeared uncertain as to whether she would be happy if her children grew up to become tennis players.
“I would be happy of course, the sport can change you a lot, it can make a child stronger,” she said, adding that the constant travelling is “very tough”.
“It’s not easy to continue for so many years, to do the same thing and no time with family,” she said.
A Laver Cup-style tournament would be “awesome” for women’s tennis, world number one Garbine Muguruza said, but warned it would be difficult to schedule in an already packed calendar.
Muguruza said she had seen clips of Team Europe’s Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal battling Team World for the maiden title last weekend in a packed stadium in Prague.
“I just love that people go and watch tennis and the stadium was full,” she said. “It would be awesome to also have it on the women’s side.”
But the 23-year-old Spaniard, speaking at the Wuhan Open in China, warned it would be tough to find a date.
“It could be a mess to figure out when we could do it. No matter what you want to do with our schedule, it’s very hard,” she told AFP.
The Laver Cup format, similar to golf’s Ryder Cup, saw Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem and Tomas Berdych representing Europe against the Team World’s Sam Querrey, John Isner, Nick Kyrgios, Jack Sock, Denis Shapovalov and Frances Tiafoe.
World number two Roger Federer clinched the first ever title for Team Europe by beating Nick Kyrgios in a super tiebreak thriller.
The Swiss and his management company, Team8, are the people behind the event, and they got the backing of the USTA and Tennis Australia.
Federer was asked in Prague last weekend during the Laver Cup if he would be interested in being involved in launching a similar competition for the women.
The 19-time major champion said: “About a women’s Laver Cup, I don’t know, I have to speak to Tony (Godsick from Team8) and the group, but we would be open. Of course we would be. I love my women in my life, and they have been wonderful. And I follow the women’s game as much as I possibly can. A big fan. Sure, I’m happy to look into it.”
Caroline Wozniacki, the world number six, also warned a women’s Laver Cup would be tough to arrange.
“If it did happen on the women’s side everyone would have to stick together in wanting to play that week and not go for another tournament,” she said. “So I’m not sure if it would work. “
Early autumn is a particularly hectic period for the top female tennis players as they launch themselves into the Asian swing in Tokyo before zooming off to Wuhan and then Beijing in a bid to qualify for the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Agnieszka Radwanska said Wednesday that players are exhausted after a long season after most of the seeds suffered early exits in Wuhan.
The Pole was speaking after she joined the exodus of tournament favourites including Wozniacki, Simona Halep, Johanna Konta, Sloane Stephens and Maidson Keys.
US Open winner Stephens said her travel schedule had stopped her from watching the Laver Cup and that she didn’t know the format.
“But if it’s good for guys, it’s good for girls,” she added.
The WTA’s Asian swing kicks off in earnest on Monday with action taking place in Tokyo (Premier), Seoul (International) and Guangzhou (International).
A marquee line-up will feature at the Toray PPO Tennis event, with five top-10 players — Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova, defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, Johanna Konta and Dominika Cibulkova — all taking part.
French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko is the top seed in Seoul while top Arab Ons Jabeur is in the Guangzhou main draw.
Muguruza is the only player to seal qualification for the WTA Finals so far which means the battle for the remaining eight spots will heat up in the upcoming weeks.
Here’s a look at the main talking points as we head into the final strength of the season…
Muguruza replaced Pliskova at the top of the world rankings after the conclusion of the US Open — a tournament which started with eight different players with a mathematical chance of claiming the No. 1 spot.
The Spaniard is just a mere 65 points ahead of Simona Halep in the rankings though and the fight for the year-end No. 1 ranking will feature prominently in the next few weeks.
The top four players — Muguruza, Halep, Elina Svitolina and Pliskova — have just 510 points separating them. Every point scored during these final two months of the season can make all the difference for the leading pack. Smart scheduling and injury management will prove key in the upcoming period.
The reigning Roland Garros champion is currently clinging onto the No. 8 spot in the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard.
Just last year when Muguruza sealed her Singapore spot fairly late in the season (she was the sixth player to qualify, secured her place on October 13, 2016), despite her winning the French Open earlier in the year, there is a risk in 2017 that a Grand Slam title holder might miss the WTA Finals.
Ostapenko did well by reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals following her Roland Garros exploits but has since gone 2-3 in matches. She needs a strong finish to make Singapore.
The Russian ex-world No. 1 has struggled with physical problems since her return from a doping ban last April, but finally found some momentum at the US Open, where she made the fourth round before falling to Anastasija Sevastova.
It wasn’t the first time Sharapova had won three matches in a row since her return — she reached the semis in Stuttgart in her first week back — but she claimed far more convincing victories in New York, taking out Halep in a three-set thriller in the opening round.
So far, the Russian has received two wildcards for the Asian swing, in Beijing and Tianjin, where a combined total of 1,280 points are on offer.
She could potentially get more invites. Sharapova is currently No. 103 in the world and would need a few wins to boost her ranking ahead of the 2018 season, where she will surely want to guarantee her place in the main draw of the Australian Open via direct entry rather than waiting for another wildcard.
The 37-year-old legend has had a tremendous Grand Slam season in 2017, making the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon, the semis at the US Open and the last 16 at Roland Garros. Positioned nicely at No. 5 in the Race to Singapore, Venus Williams has the chance to qualify for her first WTA Finals since 2009. She went there as an alternate last year but has a real shot at a top-eight finish this time around.
This time last year, Angelique Kerber was ranked No. 1 in the world and was holding two Grand Slam titles. Today, she is No. 14 in the world, No. 18 in the race and has won just one match post-Wimbledon. Finishing the season with a few solid wins can help the German regain some confidence and start 2018 in a better position. Will she be able to capitalise on Asia?
She has a rematch with Naomi Osaka in her opener in Tokyo. Osaka beat Kerber in the first round of the US Open. Revenge could be the pick-me-up Kerber needs at the moment.