From Serena Williams’ tearful decision to stop breastfeeding to Victoria Azarenka’s guilt over the time she spends away from her baby, life isn’t all fun and games for Wimbledon’s mothers. Few female players have succeeded at Grand Slam level after becoming mums.
Belgium’s Kim Clijsters returned to win the 2009 US Open, while Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley won majors after giving birth in an era when the physical demands on players were less intense.
But, Williams, 36, and her fellow mothers are doing their best to cope with the stresses of parenthood as they bid to reverse that trend at Wimbledon this week. Williams is back at Wimbledon for the first time since giving birth to Alexis Olympia in September.
The seven-time champion’s life is still a blur of nappies and interrupted sleep, but that didn’t stop her grinding out a 7-5, 6-3 win over Holland’s Arantxa Rus in the first round.
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Serena’s victory was one of four by mothers in the singles on Monday, with former Wimbledon runner-up Vera Zvonareva hoping to join the club when she plays on Tuesday.
Germany’s Tatjana Maria enjoyed the most surprising success with a 7-6, 4-6, 6-1 victory over fifth seed Elina Svitolina to the delight of her four-year-old Charlotte.
There were also wins for former world number one Azarenka, the Belarusian beating Ekaterina Alexandrova 7-6, 6-3, while Russian Evgeniya Rodina defeated Antonia Lottner 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Azarenka’s year-old son Leo travels with her on the tour amid a stressful custody battle that forced her to step away from the sport last year.
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The former world number one admits that every moment she spends away from Leo is difficult, while juggling her tennis schedule with the constant demands of parenthood is a never-ending battle.
“It’s difficult for me because I schedule everything around him. I do try to maximise my time with him,” two-time major winner Azarenka said.
“So, whenever he’s sleeping, that’s when I’m working, and other times I’m a full-time mom. It’s more challenging, but I wouldn’t change it.”
“The tougher balance is to be able to spend time away from my son and be okay with taking sometimes time for myself, which is a struggle, because I really want to spend every second with him. I feel guilty if I take 15 minutes for myself to stretch. I’m trying to run back to him and spend every second with him.”
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Williams’ glittering career has brought her 23 major titles. But, those achievements count for nothing when Alexis Olympia needs feeding, an issue that led Serena to make an emotional decision in favour of her career, recently.
Williams had complications after childbirth and her condition was a concern at the start of her comeback this year. After a tearful conversation with her coach Patrick Mouratoglou, she agreed to stop breastfeeding because it was making it difficult to lose weight.
“For my body, it didn’t work. No matter how much I worked out, no matter how much I did, it didn’t work for me. Then it was just emotionally letting go,” Williams said.
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“That was a different thing. I literally sat Olympia in my arms, I talked to her, we prayed about it. I told her, Look, I’m going to stop. Mommy has to do this. I cried a little bit. She was totally fine. It was the strangest thing. I just learned from that experience, every physical body is different.”
Despite all the stresses of learning to balance a child with a successful career, for Wimbledon’s mums, the process is an empowering feeling.
“The thing about being pregnant and coming back is such a powerful thing now, and I think it’s an advantage, in a way. You’re able to kind of do a tick, okay, I am a mom now, so I can continue to do more of what I love to do,” Azarenka said.
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