Singapore — New mother Serena Williams will lack some of her trademark intimidation factor when she returns to tennis, US great Chris Evert says, warning that the 23-time Grand Slam winner may find her comeback tough.
Williams, who gave birth to a baby girl in September, has said she is planning to defend her title at the Australian Open in January, four-and-a-half months after becoming a mother.
But Evert said standards in women’s tennis had risen in 2017 since Williams stepped off the tour, warning that the 36-year-old would be returning to a more competitive environment.
"I think that this whole year, the level has gone up because Serena hasn’t been dominant and the other players have all felt that they had a shot at the No1 ranking," Evert said.
"I think that because of that challenge, they have improved in the physical and the mental part of it because they’ve all had a shot at it and they’ve pushed each other and that’s why there have been so many different winners. So, I think the level will have improved by the time Serena comes back."
Since Williams’s last match — January’s Australian Open final against her sister Venus — Jelena Ostapenko was a surprise winner of the French Open, Garbine Muguruza triumphed at Wimbledon and Sloane Stephens capped a brilliant return from injury to lift the US Open trophy. Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova and Muguruza, the current No1, have all held the top ranking this season, and Russia’s Maria Sharapova is back on the scene after returning from a 15-month drug ban.
"There’s so many things we don’t know about Serena, how it’s going to feel to her being a mother coming back, is it going to distract her, is it going to motivate her more?" Evert said.
"Or, how being a mother emotionally will pull at her and will it take her away from tennis. There’s so many elements here that we don’t know about Serena and her comeback."
Evert also dismissed concerns about the WTA Tour’s "Asian swing", in which top players have suffered a series of upsets as the season draws to a close — including at last week’s Wuhan Open, where only one seed reached the semifinals.
"This has been an issue that’s been ongoing as long as tennis has existed.… It’s such a physical, mental and emotional sport that by the time you get around to the end of the year… it’s understandable that players are starting to feel the effects," she said.
"It’s a big year … so you have to manage your schedule so that when it comes around to the fall, you want to be feeling fit and sharp and not injured. But that’s about managing the whole year, it’s not just about the Asian circuit."