Eager to be a “hands-on mum”, Serena Williams has left the door tantalisingly ajar for a shock Australian Open comeback.
Williams’ legendary career almost certainly came to an end with an enthralling, emotion-charged third-round US Open loss to Australian Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday night (Saturday AEST).
But such was the extraordinarily high quality of her performance, after barely playing in the past 14 months, that the 40-year-old refused to categorically rule out a return.
“I don’t think so but you never know. I don’t know,” Williams said when asked on court if there was any chance she may come back.
“I’m literally playing my way into this and getting better. I should have started sooner.”
Asked an hour later in her post-match press conference if there was any wiggle room for a return, the 23-times grand slam champ said teasingly: “I don’t know. I’m not thinking about that. I always did love Australia, though.”
After beating Danka Kovinic in her opening match in New York, which most considered to be her ceremonial farewell, Williams stunned world No.2 Anett Kontaveit in round two with a breathtaking display.
The American went up another level in her 7-5 6-7 (4-7) 6-1 loss to Tomljanovic, an epic affair that stretched more than three hours with Williams saving five match points before finally yielding.
“Yeah, I’ve come a long way since last year at Wimbledon,” Williams said.
“Just not sure if that was my last moment or not. Making it a different moment I think is much better.
“And it takes a lot of work to get here. Clearly I’m still capable. It takes a lot more than that. I’m ready to, like, be a mum, explore a different version of Serena.
“Technically in the world I’m still super young, so I want to have a little bit of a life while I’m still walking.”
Central to that life is five-year-old daughter Olympia.
“I’m a super hands-on mum. I’ve been with her almost every single day of her life, minus two days or three days,” Williams said.
“Yeah, it’s been really hard on her, my career. So it will be nice just to do that and spend some time with her, do things that I never really have done or had an opportunity to do.
“I have such a bright future ahead of me.
“Also I’m kind of at an advantage because COVID happened. I think everyone shut down for a year. We kind of got to see what our lives would be like if we weren’t playing tennis.
“Then I got injured last year, so I took off literally a year. So I got to see, again, what every day would be like to wake up and not have to go to the gym.
“So I’m definitely probably going to be karaoke-ing tomorrow.”
An influencer long before such a word even existed, Williams plans to stay involved in tennis, though she’s not sure in what capacity.
“But I feel like it’s provided me with so many opportunities. Through that, it’s provided other people with so many amazing opportunities,” she said.
“It means so much to me in my life, and I’ve had so many amazing moments, that I don’t see a future without it.”
Williams spent 319 weeks in total as world No.1, has won the most grand slam titles of any player – man or woman – in the 54-year professional era and truly transcended the sport.
The trailblazer is widely considered the tennis GOAT – greatest of all time.
“I mean, there’s so many things to be remembered by. Like the fight. I’m such a fighter. I don’t know,” she said when asked how she would like to be remembered.
“I feel like I really brought something, and bring something, to tennis. The different looks, the fist pumps, the just crazy intensity.
“That obviously the passion, I think, is a really good word.
“Yeah, yeah, just continuing through ups and downs. I could go on and on.
“But I just, honestly, am so grateful that I had this moment and that I’m Serena.”