One year is a long time to be off the tennis court for any player. That year is a lot more significant when it coincides with your 40th birthday, a feeling Serena Williams will become familiar with as she returns to the circuit today.
After almost 12 months on the sidelines, Williams is reigniting her aim to win a 24th major title at Wimbledon next week. She is starting by playing doubles with world No 3 Ons Jabeur in Eastbourne, in what she will hope to be a jolly warm up as she eases herself back into competitive tennis.
Where other players dip their toe in punditry or commentary slots during long stints out through injury, or even post sporadically on social media about significant results, Williams' attention has been elsewhere.
Williams the businesswoman has been working at full pelt. The LA women's football club she invested in, Angel City, finally took to the field. She raised $111m to launch her venture capital fund, Serena Ventures, which will invest in founders with diverse points of view. And she was linked as an investor in a failed bid to buy Chelsea FC. All that alongside running her existing eponymous fashion brand, dabbling in NFTs, plus promoting the Oscar-winning film King Richard, which profiled her family's life story.
There were fears she was on the brink of retirement earlier this year, in particular in April when her coach of 10 years, Patrick Mouratoglou, left her camp to take over former Wimbledon champion Simona Halep's training.
But Williams got the tennis world talking last week when she announced her sudden return to the court. She is working with Eric Hechtman - a coach to sister Venus - as she prepares for her cameo during the height of the tennis calendar.
A year on from the dramatic scenes on Centre Court, where she slipped and injured herself and was forced to retire from her first-round match, there is some scepticism in the locker room about how well she can do at SW19 this time.
"It is a long time and she is not the youngest any more, so I suppose the body also takes some time to get back into shape," 2021 Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova said yesterday. "Playing matches at tournaments is still very much different to just practising... I think it will be super difficult for her. But of course, she is an amazing player, she achieved so much and still a number of players will be super scared to play her."
Jabeur, who has known about her partnership with Williams since before the French Open, was more confident in the seven-time Wimbledon champion's ability to snap back. "Many players were jealous because I'm playing with her," she said. "Honestly, Serena is Serena. She is a legend and always will be."
Jabeur and Williams will face Sara Sorribes Tormo and Marie Bouzkova this evening.
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