WIMBLEDON, England – At first glance, at Wimbledon on Saturday, it looked like it was as usual.
Two days before the start of this Grand Slam tournament, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were training on adjacent grass courts with the bell tower of Santa Maria Church as a backdrop.
While the two longtime rivals were training under the English sun, Serena Williams sat under the spotlight in the main interview room, as has happened many times.
But while his will be his 21st Wimbledon, it will be an occasion like no other for Williams. He returns to the All England Club at the age of 40, having not played a single game since last year’s Wimbledon, when he broke his right hamstring after slipping during the first set of a first-round match that did not he was able to complete on the center court.
I asked Williams to what extent was he motivated during his return by the desire to give himself a different memory at Wimbledon?
“It was always one thing, since the game ended, that was always in my head,” he said. “So it was a lot of motivation.”
Center Court, now 100 years old and still the most atmospheric spectacle of professional gaming, has been the scene of many Williams triumphs, winning seven individual Wimbledon titles.
But it was all about pain and disappointment last year. She cried as she tried to continue after her injury and cried again after being forced to stop the match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich. Although Williams was able to limping off the court, he stumbled when he left the turf and needed help to get to the hallway leading to the exit of the clubhouse.
“You never want any game to end like this,” Williams said. “It’s really unfortunate, but it was definitely something that has always been at the forefront of my mind.”
It has taken him a year to return to the tour, retiring from three consecutive Grand Slam tournaments and provoking understandable speculation about whether he intended to continue playing tennis.
“I didn’t retire,” he said Saturday, choosing his words with special care. “I had no plans to be honest. I just didn’t know when I would come back. I didn’t know how I would come back. Obviously Wimbledon is a great place to be, and it worked a little bit.”
Since her last appearance at the All England Club, she has hardly been at rest: juggling motherhood — her daughter Olympia is now 4 years old — and business efforts, including Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm with emphasis on investing in companies whose founders come from. historically underrepresented background.
“Part of me feels like it’s a little more of my life now than tournaments,” he said of his interests outside of tennis. “When you have a venture company, you have to dedicate yourself to everything. I definitely need literally all my extra time. And it’s fun. I’m currently out of the office for the next few weeks, so if you email me , you’ll get the answer “out of the office.” Everyone knows I’ll be back in a few weeks. But it’s good. “
Williams has also separated from Patrick Mouratoglou, the high-profile Frenchman who has coached him for the past 10 years. Mouratoglou is now working with Simona Halep, a former No. 1 who produced perhaps the best performance of her career to defeat Williams in straight sets at the 2019 Wimbledon final.
Williams is now coached by Eric Hechtman, a former University of Miami tennis player who has been the tennis director for a long time at the Royal Palm Tennis Club in Miami. He has known Williams and his older sister Venus for almost 15 years and has been coaching Venus Williams since 2019.
Hechtman is now coaching both of them, although 42-year-old Venus Williams has yet to play a tour match this year and will miss Wimbledon for the first time since 2013. Hechtman said the decision to start coaching to Serena Williams was taken with the blessing of Venus. While this is her first tournament with Serena, she clearly understands that the goal is not simply to make an appearance and improve last year, no matter how much Serena has gone without competing.
“She’s a champion, isn’t she? And she plays at Wimbledon for a reason,” she said. “Just like I think anyone who enters the tournament, their goal is to win the event. And that’s our goal.”
Williams also made it clear when asked what he would consider “a good result” at Wimbledon this year?
“You know the answer,” she said with a smile. “Let’s go now.”
Still, Williams was on strike for design for much of Saturday’s press conference, and declined to give a precise date when he decided to play at Wimbledon, saying only that he made the decision before the French Open. , which began in late May.
He also moved away from political issues. Some prominent American female athletes, such as soccer star Megan Rapinoe and athletics star Allyson Feix, have expressed their views on Friday’s Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v.
“I think it’s a very interesting question,” he said. “I have no thoughts that I am willing to share right now about this decision.”
It was unclear why Williams decided not to respond. It is a witness to Jehovah, a religious faith whose members identify themselves as Christians and who believe that the Bible teaches them to remain politically neutral. But Williams did not cite his religion on Saturday as a reason to reserve his opinion.
Her reluctance contrasted with 18-year-old American Coco Gauff, who appeared in the main interview room later in the day. Gauff, like another young tennis star, Naomi Osaka, has been eager to use her platform to talk about social issues and called for an end to armed violence during the French Open on the way to end earlier this month.
“Obviously, I am disappointed with the decision,” Gauff said of the Supreme Court ruling. “Obviously I feel bad for future women and women now, but I also feel bad for those who protested that, I don’t even know how many years ago, but who protested that and are alive to see that decision reversed. “.
Gauff added: “I feel like we’re almost going backwards.”
But he urged activism. “I still want to encourage people to use their voice and not feel too discouraged about it because we can definitely make a change and hope the change happens.”
Williams has also been negative when asked about Wimbledon’s decision to exclude Russian and Belarusian players this year due to the war in Ukraine. The list of those who have been banned includes Sasnovich, the Belarusian who faced Williams last year on the central court.
“Another heavy issue that involves a lot of politics, from what I understand, and government,” Williams said. “I’ll get away from that.”
What he will do at Wimbledon is get back to Grand Slam tennis. His first-round match against Frenchwoman Harmony Tan, number 113, is scheduled for Tuesday, probably on the center court. And although Williams, number 1 long, now has a quadruple-digit classification (1204), he will be the favorite on the turf despite his dismissal.
He’s back, no doubt. The question is for how long? Asked if this was his last Wimbledon, Williams stayed in tune with his Saturday mood: dodging.
“You know, I don’t know,” she said. “I can only tell you I’m here. Who knows where he’ll show up next? You just have to be prepared.”