In an interview ahead of her fourth-round clash with the seven-time Wimbledon champion, Evgeniya Rodina talks in detail about the challenges of returning to tennis after childbirth.
Mark Hodgkinson
July 8, 2018

In all her years in tennis, Evgeniya Rodina has never once spoken a word to her "idol" Serena Williams, played the American in a match, practiced with her, or had any dealings with her whatsoever. 

And yet the Russian qualifier, who faces Williams on Monday for a place in the Wimbledon quarter-finals, feels a personal connection with her opponent that goes beyond the admiration she has for her.

"I know how tough it is to come back to tennis after having your first child," Rodina told wtatennis.com ahead of a fourth-round match between the last two mothers in the draw (there were six when the tournament began). 

Whatever happens when Rodina has a swing at Williams, this much is guaranteed: a mother will make the last eight at the All England Club.

"One of the hardest things about being a mother on the tour is travelling with your child and organising someone to look after them when you're playing or training. But then I wouldn't want to travel without my daughter Anna as then I would miss her so much. So it's not easy."

Evgeniya Rodina - Wimbledon 2018 - Getty
Evgeniya Rodina

Rodina, who is into the last 16 of a Grand Slam for the first time, gave birth to her daughter in 2012, and returned to tennis the following year. So she is a few years ahead of Williams, who became a mother in September and is playing the fourth tournament of her comeback, and who tweeted on Saturday that she had cried after missing her daughter Olympia's first steps because she had been training.

"There aren't many women on the tour who are mothers, so we communicate with each other, we talk about things, but I haven't spoken to Serena yet," said Rodina, the World No.120, who is coached by her husband Denis Shteyngart. 

Rodina's admiration of Williams can be traced back to when she was a teenager and she went to watch the Californian playing at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.

"I immediately liked her style, the way she plays. She's my idol. I also think she's the greatest ever," said Rodina, who is now 29 years old. 

Williams, who missed last summer's Wimbledon while pregnant, has said how there's "an aura" about her when she's on court, and how her opponents often raise their level against her: "I play everyone at their greatest, so I have to be greater."

Speaking in a shaded spot at Wimbledon's Aorangi Park practice courts, Rodina said she would have "nothing to lose" against Williams.

"Of course, people play better against Serena because you have nothing to lose against her. I'll try to stay relaxed even though we will probably play on Centre Court. For me, this will be an exciting moment as I will get to play against her for the first time, and I expect it will be a great match," said Rodina. 

"I will see if I raise my level against Serena. It will be difficult of course because she's a great player and a champion, but I just need to play my game and focus on my own tennis."   

While Williams and Rodina play the same sport, they exist in two different worlds. Williams is here in London with ambitions of winning an eighth Wimbledon title, and a 24th major overall, which would put her level with Margaret Court's all-time record. Rodina is simply trying to prolong her deepest ever run at the Slams. 

Making childcare arrangements is easier at Wimbledon than it is at other tournaments, which has perhaps contributed to the quality of Rodina's tennis.

"Here at Wimbledon, it's much easier because there's a kids' room. My child can stay here all day if she wants to, but at other tournaments, my daughter doesn't have those opportunities," said Rodina, who defeated American Madison Keys in the third round.  

"It's tough because she can't sit and watch my matches when she's five years old. Also, it's hard to find someone to watch her when I play. Sometimes when I play close to home, we leave her with my family. But if we go to a tournament far away, or if I play lots of tournaments, I take her with me because I don't want her to stay at home for a long time without me. When I'm away from her, I call the whole time," said Rodina. 

As the years have gone by, it has become slightly easier for Rodina to combine her roles of mother and tennis player. "She's growing up and she understands more now than I need to go to practice or to play matches. She can watch me playing on the TV or iPad. It was harder when she was small, but now it's different."

Read more: Fourth round Match Points