Grand Slam champions, inspired by Serena Williams, aim to follow her path as mothers. With the final one set to surprise you!

Grand Slam champions, inspired by Serena Williams, aim to follow her path as mothers. With the final one set to surprise you!

Ever since Serena Williams clinched her 23rd Grand Slam title while pregnant with her daughter Olympia, numerous tennis stars have demonstrated that it's feasible to balance family life without compromising a successful career.

This year's Australian Open witnessed a comeback to elite competition for several Grand Slam champions who took time off the WTA Tour to embrace motherhood, following in Williams' footsteps.

Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, and Caroline Wozniacki all returned to Melbourne Park in January—Osaka and Kerber playing their first major tournament back after becoming mothers—but encountered mixed results.

Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley have secured Grand Slam victories after giving birth, yet no one has replicated their feat since the 1970s and 1980s. Nonetheless, players like Osaka, Kerber, Wozniacki, and Victoria Azarenka have the potential to achieve similar feats.

Let's delve into the journeys back to success of several high-profile mothers on the tour.

Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka, the Japanese player, has been at the forefront of numerous challenging discussions in tennis concerning broader issues, from mental health to racism, and has actively participated in Black Lives Matter and other social justice campaigns.

She made history as the first Asian man or woman to ascend to world No. 1 after claiming titles at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open. She became the first player since 2001 to win the subsequent major title after her first Grand Slam victory. She clinched another victory in New York in 2020 but was fined at Roland Garros the following year for skipping mandatory press conferences, citing the need to protect her mental health.

In a Twitter post, she expressed, "I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health, and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one. I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me."

The 26-year-old withdrew from the French Open due to depression and stepped away from the remainder of the tennis season after struggling at the US Open, citing depression, anxiety, and undergoing therapy. Her return to the tour in 2024 after giving birth and falling out of love with the sport marked a new approach for her. She seemed visibly happier and under less pressure than during her peak in women’s tennis. Presently, she holds four Grand Slam titles and could potentially win more, but she appears more relaxed in her handling of the circuit’s demands and eager to make them work for her.

Since welcoming her daughter Shai in July 2023, Osaka has spoken about feeling "more motivated" and cherishing "every minute," but she has also been candid about the challenges of being away from her child.

She remarked, "I find myself feeling really bad because I want to do better in the tournaments to make it worth it when I am gone, so I have to juggle the mindset and know that this takes a lot of time."

She reached the second round at her first tournament back, the Brisbane International, before losing a high-quality first-round match at the Australian Open to former world No. 4 Caroline Garcia.

Elina Svitolina

Elina Svitolina, originally from Ukraine, has been vocal about issues beyond tennis, consistently advocating for her homeland amidst the ongoing conflict with Russia. She has raised over €640,000 for Ukraine.

In October 2022, she welcomed her daughter Skai with her husband and fellow tennis player, Gael Monfils. Since then, Svitolina has experienced some of her best performances, earning the WTA Comeback Player of the Year award in 2023. A remarkable run at Wimbledon last year saw her defeating four former Grand Slam champions, including world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, to reach the semifinals.

Since returning from maternity leave, Svitolina, who boasts 17 WTA titles, has been a formidable presence in Grand Slam tournaments. However, she was forced to retire from her fourth-round match at this year's Australian Open due to a back injury.

She has also discussed the challenges of balancing parenting with being an elite athlete. When Skai fell ill at the beginning of the year, Svitolina and Monfils postponed their flights to start their season to ensure she was well enough to accompany them.

In a column before the Australian Open, she remarked, "I read there were eight moms in the draw at the Australian Open this year, and I thought it was great that there were so many. I would say that four or five years ago, a lot of players wouldn’t even think about coming back after pregnancy. But we have seen it is possible, and I think it is really inspiring to see so many moms coming back after their first or second child. It shows you can push your body."

Angelique Kerber

Former Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber made her return to competitive tennis at the same tournament this year, following an 18-month hiatus from the tour to welcome her daughter Liana.

The three-time Grand Slam champion announced her pregnancy on the eve of the 2022 US Open in a post on Instagram, stating, "I really wanted to play the @usopen, but eventually, I decided that two against one just isn't a fair competition." Although who knows what may have happened – Serena Williams won the Australian Open in 2017 while between eight to nine weeks pregnant.

Former world No. 1 Kerber claimed victory at Melbourne Park in 2016 but faced a tough draw against big-hitting 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins. Despite her absence from competition for almost a year and a half, Kerber put on a good showing, losing in three sets over almost two hours.

Despite her hard-fought loss, Kerber displayed a champion's mentality, telling the press afterward: "Of course, you have played here, you have won the tournament, and you want to get far in the draw. But on the other side, it is my first real tournament, and I know that it needs time."

It has been a challenging start to the year for the 35-year-old, who also participated in Germany's United Cup bid earlier this year. She has lost six of her seven matches, only securing a victory over Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic at the mixed-gender tournament. However, with her famous tenacity evident in her first few matches back on tour, she's likely to return to her best.

Victoria Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, has in many ways paved the way for other mothers returning to the tour since welcoming her son Leo in December 2016. Her comeback in 2017 was interrupted by a lengthy custody battle with her ex-partner, which also led her to withdraw from the 2018 Australian Open.

However, after securing custody, she climbed back up the rankings through 2018, re-entering the top 100 and making deep runs at major tournaments again. In 2019, she reached the women’s doubles final alongside Ash Barty, and she claimed her first title since giving birth at the 2020 Cincinnati Masters.

Her quarterfinal run at the 2020 US Open, alongside Serena Williams and Tsvetana Pironkova, marked the first time that three mothers had reached that round at a Grand Slam. Her semifinal against Williams was the first time two mothers met in a major semifinal. Azarenka’s victory in that match was her first ever against Williams and propelled her to her first Slam final since 2013.

Although she lost the New York showpiece to Osaka, had she maintained her lead of a set and a break, she would have made history as the first mother to claim one of the four biggest tennis tournaments. Despite the loss, she has continued to make impressive runs at tournaments, reaching the semifinals at the 2023 Australian Open for the first time in 10 years.

Caroline Wozniacki

Caroline Wozniacki, winner of the 2018 Australian Open, retired in January 2020, but announced a comeback to the professional circuit in 2023 after having two children.

She clearly had unfinished business at Flushing Meadows, where she reached two finals, and made her return at the Montreal Open, a warm-up tournament in the hard-court swing.

She reached the quarterfinals of the US Open in her first major appearance in three years, losing to eventual champion Coco Gauff. The 32-year-old took another brief break from competition to prepare for the Australian Open this January, but endured an early exit, losing in the second round to eventual quarterfinalist Maria Timofeeva.

In an interview with Vogue, Wozniacki said, “You’re so selfish as an athlete. Your entire focus is being the best competitor that you can possibly be. But then having a child turns your world upside down.”

Wozniacki is a personal friend of Serena Williams and credited her for inspiring her to pick up her racket again, saying: “Serena doesn’t get nearly enough credit for getting to so many Grand Slam finals after having Olympia.”

“She paved the way for so many of us – she showed us that anything is possible.”

Wozniacki explained her reasons for returning to competition on Twitter, saying: “I became a mother and now have two beautiful children I am so grateful for.

“But I still have goals I want to accomplish. I want to show my kids you can pursue your dreams no matter your age or role.”

While her return to a high level of competition and juggling a family at the same time is impressive, she also pointed out that it’s easier for her, having a support network. She said, “I’m so lucky to have a supportive husband and supportive parents, and the help of a nanny, but I think it’s possible.”

In a sport where it’s difficult to break even financially for the vast majority of players, who never experience Wozniacki’s success, having a child and returning to compete may not be possible for lower-ranked women.

But Wozniacki and others are at least getting it into the wider conversation of women’s sport and raising awareness and understanding. As the former champion said: “I want to prove that to myself and to those women. You can have both: you can be thrilled with your family and with everything at home and still have a career – and be great at it.”
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