Tennis players have many reasons to share a connection with one another.
They could strike up friendships from being around each other for a long time, they could play doubles together, they could be engaged in a fierce rivalry, they can have the same sponsor, get stranded at an airport together because of a canceled flight, and nowadays, they can be connected because of their kids.
Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka spoke about the special bond they have formed after becoming mothers and on Wednesday, Novak Djokovic, father of two, revealed his connection with Serena, whose daughter Olympia is one day older than his daughter Tara.
“I love Serena. You know all the superlatives and beautiful words that you can think of, she deserves it. Especially now, I mean, after she gave birth to Olympia. And after all she has achieved in sport to see her back and, you know, putting hours on the court and work and again and again, it’s impressive. It’s inspiring. It really is,” Djokovic said after his second round win over Jauma Munar.
“I do have a really nice relationship with her, and there is actually, I don’t know if you know, but there is one day difference between my daughter and her daughter.
“So we have texted a lot in the process. She was very nice to share a lot of things that she was going through with me and my wife [Jelena], and I really appreciated that. I felt really close to her. All I can say is I love her, and I wish her all the best.”
— Olympia Ohanian (@OlympiaOhanian) May 26, 2018
AU REVOIR, NICO!
The day before, two other players shared a special moment as Nicolas Mahut played, what is likely to be the final singles match of his career, against Juan Martin del Potro in the Roland Garros first round.
Del Potro won the clash in four sets and they exchanged a warm hug at the net when the match was over.
The Argentine wouldn’t reveal exactly what they told each other because he wanted Mahut to tell the press himself that he was likely to retire from singles play.
“Towards the end, I wanted to savor the game a bit. It might be my last game here, my last match here. But it will depend on a number of things. I’m not saying that I’m going to stop my career, but maybe I will give preference to doubles,” said the 36-year-old Frenchman.
“Del Potro is a player that I like very much, and I’d be happy if my last match that I played was against him. I was lucky, because I was able to play the tournament. But afterwards, we don’t know what’s going to happen. The season is a long one. I can come back, but I could fall. If I do drop very much, then I’ll give preference to doubles. What I can say was that I really enjoyed the match towards the end.”
The catsuit Serena Williams wore during her Roland Garros opening round has been the talk of the French Open.
And while many of her peers, including the likes of Elina Svitolina, have made positive comments about the eye-catching outfit, Kristyna Pliskova, who lost to Serena on Tuesday, has questioned whether it was within the rules.
Serena, who had life-threatening health complications following the delivery of her baby, Olympia, last September, including blood clots in her lungs, said the catsuit had a special message behind it, while adding that it also had a functional compression purpose to help with blood circulation.
“Catsuit anyone? For all the moms out there who had a tough recovery from pregnancy—here you go. If I can do it, so can you. Love you all!!” tweeted Serena on Tuesday.
She added in her press conference: “I feel like a warrior in it, like a warrior princess kind of, queen from Wakanda maybe. I’m always living in a fantasy world. I always wanted to be a super hero, and it’s kind of my way of being a super hero. I feel like a super hero when I wear it.”
Pliskova was asked by Czech press about Serena’s outfit and said she wondered whether it was legal in tennis.
“I did not really know that she could play in this,” Pliskova was quoted as saying by isport.blesk.cz.
“What I remember, even when it was cold, they did not let anyone play in long trousers.
“But I guess she has her own rules. That’s the only thing. Otherwise I don’t care if she plays naked.”
Nothing against Serena's outfit, looks pretty cool actually. But just wondering how is that allowed by the rules if we only allowed to wear legging until the middle of the calf the longest, and ALWAYS have to wear skirt/shorts on top of the leggings.Were there any rules changes?
— Arina Rodionova (@arinarodionova) May 30, 2018
Fellow Czech Marketa Vondrousova had similar thoughts.
There is nothing in the 2018 Official Grand Slam Rulebook that clearly forbids players from wearing long pants during matches. And nothing is said regarding compression wear.
The following are excerpts from the rulebook:
“Sweatshirts, gym shorts, dress shirts, T-shirts or any other inappropriate attire shall not be worn during a match.”
“Players may wear warm-up clothing during the warm-up and during a match provided it complies with the foregoing provisions and provided further that the players obtain approval of the Referee prior to wearing warm-up clothing during a match.”
The Grand Slam Board has been contacted for comment but is yet to respond.
Meanwhile, No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina, who reached the third round with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Viktoria Kuzmova on Wednesday, had good things to say about the catsuit, and welcomed Serena’s return to Grand Slam play after a 14-month absence.
“It’s nice, and I think it’s a strong message from her,” she said of the outfit.
“I read a little bit about the story behind it. So it’s really something special, and I think it’s nice to see her back, nice to see her winning again.
“And hopefully I can play with her because, for me, it’s something that I want to do. I want to play against Maria [Sharapova]. I want to play against Serena, against Victoria [Azarenka], such great champions.
“We are training for those kind of moments, for those kind of matches, to play on the big stage in front of lots of people. So I want to challenge myself against those players.”
Pretty cool hearing how excited players are to have Serena back, even on the men’s side.
“I heard she was wearing something pretty cool, too,” said Sam Querrey.#RG18
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 29, 2018
Serena Williams is not putting pressure on herself this fortnight at Roland Garros, where she contested her first Grand Slam match since the 2017 Australian Open, although she knows it’s not in her nature to do that.
You don’t win 23 majors by cutting yourself much slack.
“Are you here to compete, or are you here because you feel you can win the tournament?” a journalist asked her after her straight-sets victory over Kristyna Pliskova on Tuesday.
“I don’t know. I mean, I’m definitely here to compete and do the best that I can do, obviously,” replied the 36-year-old Serena.
“I’m not putting any pressure on myself as I normally do.”
She then paused for a second then added with a slightly lower voice and a hint of a smile: “I think deep down we all know the answer to that.”
Serena, ranked 451 in the world right now, may still be at the start of her comeback from maternity leave – she’s only played five matches in 14 months – but her coach Patrick Mouratoglou can firmly say that he has no doubt the American will be winning majors again, in what he describes as “the last stage of her career”.
“I don’t doubt [that she will win more Slams], that’s not my style and when you work with Serena you’re not supposed to doubt and there’s no reason to doubt because she’s achieved everything she wanted to achieve,” Mouratoglou told Sport360 in Paris on Tuesday, following Serena’s win.
“She doesn’t always succeed, sometimes she has to come back one, two, three times to get it, but at the end, she gets what she wants. I’m confident she will.”
Serena told the press after her match that she felt she was “on the right track” and singled out her serving as something she was pleased with from her opener against Pliskova. The pair combined for 28 aces during the match – 15 from Pliskova and 13 from Serena, who admits her serve speed can still go up a bit, and that she was focusing more on placement rather than speed in her clash with the Czech lefty.
Pliskova, ranked 70 in the world, says she was nervous at the start of the match and credits her serve for keeping her in the contest.
“I think she played better than I expected, so it was a tough match. I think she was moving quite okay, I expected a little bit she will be worse,” confessed Pliskova.
Serena was asked in her press conference is she thinks her opponents will be underestimating her during this comeback.
“I can’t answer that. Usually everyone I play doesn’t. But, you know, I’m just here enjoying myself and see what happens. It would be nice,” said Serena.
Mouratoglou considers her opening match a “great performance”.
“I think she did well, especially in the big moments of the match. Especially in the tiebreak for example, in the key moments she was able to lift her level, and this is really Serena. That’s one of the things that she has that is special, she feels the moment in the matches and lifts her level when it’s necessary and I think she did well,” said the Frenchman.
This was Serena’s first match since her opening round exit in Miami to Naomi Osaka in March. She was scheduled to play in Madrid and Rome prior to Roland Garros, but withdrew from both because she didn’t feel ready to compete at the level she wanted to.
Coming to the French Open having not played any matches on clay in two years may sound risky to some but Serena spent more than a month practicing on the red dirt at the Mouratoglou Academy in the south of France and her coach insists it was the right call to skip the tournaments she did.
“That was completely the plan,” said Mouratoglou.
“When we spoke, she came to Mouratoglou Academy and we did a few practices and I sat with her and told her she was not ready.
“And there were two options: Option one was to play Madrid and Rome to get some matches and then go to Roland Garros maybe not in the best shape, or option two, cancel the tournaments and work incredibly hard for five weeks to get to the physical and the tennis level, and I said to her that I personally trust more the Serena that is fit 100 per cent and ready to compete, with no matches, than the Serena that’s not 100 per cent fit with matches. And she said let’s do it like that then.”
Serena says those five weeks at the academy were fabulous because she got to spend quality time with her daughter Olympia while also focusing on her tennis.
Can a practice be serene, yet atomic?
Answer: Yes — when you bring together Serena and Tomic. 🎥⬇ pic.twitter.com/Cs52QihaMd
— Mouratoglou Tennis Academy (@MouratoglouAcad) May 18, 2018
Several ATP players practice at the Mouratoglou Academy and the likes of Thanasi Kokkinakis and Bernard Tomic got to have sessions with Serena.
“I rarely hit with ATP players, although I don’t know why, but it was great. It was a lot of fun. It was extremely difficult. I just stood in the corner because I’m not sure how I would have fared if we were playing points. It was a wonderful experience and it just kind of helped me get everything going and get my competition and competitive juices flowing,” said Serena.
Mouratoglou says those practices were beneficial for both Serena and the ATP players.
“They’re surprised. They don’t expect a woman to play like that, that’s what they tell me all the time,” said Mouratoglou.
“Because she doesn’t move back, she stays on the baseline even when they hit as hard as they can and she’s strong. She refuses to step back, she reaccelerates the ball, so they’re really impressed every time.
“And they’re happy, they all tell me whenever you want we can practice again. It’s fun and it’s useful for them too. And it’s good for her, because it’s difficult for her to play with better players and everybody needs to be challenged as much as possible to improve.
“And I think it was a great challenge for her to play with guys and show she has the level to play with them.”
Serena and Mouratoglou have gone through several difficult periods together. When they first joined forces in June 2012, Serena had just lost an opening round match to Virginie Razzano at the French Open. It remains the only Grand Slam first round defeat Serena ever conceded – from 67 contested.
Physically, Serena has gone through a lot since the birth of Olympia last September. She had serious life-threatening post-delivery complications including a blood clot in her lung. She said on Tuesday that she’s been mostly competing in pants to ensure proper blood circulation, and that the much talked-about catsuit she’s wearing in Paris has compression purposes as well – “It’s a fun suit, but it’s also functional so I can be able to play without any problems.”
Catsuit anyone? For all the moms out there who had a tough recovery from pregnancy—here you go. If I can do it, so can you. Love you all!! pic.twitter.com/xXb3BKDGNF
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) May 29, 2018
Asked how he compares this current challenge with Serena compared to others they’ve faced in the past, Mouratoglou says: “It’s difficult to compare periods. But it’s definitely a tough period. Coming back physically, rebuild her body, rebuild her cardio, rebuild her game, that’s tough.
“And it has been in a way tougher than what she expected.
“That was a difficult moment, and it still is – until she wins another Slam, we can consider that it’s a tough moment.
“Once you start winning Grand Slams, I mean when she starts winning Grand Slams because not everyone does that, then the confidence is much higher and things go kind of – I mean it’s never easy but there is more confidence and more certainty.
“But now we have to rebuild that and in a way it’s a new challenge and it’s kind of a new career, the last stage of her career. I think she had several careers in her life, that’s probably the last one.”
Serena next faces No. 17 Ashleigh Barty, of Australia, in the second round at Roland Garros.