In her exclusive WTA column, Martina Navratilova discusses Serena Williams and suggests she won't have a problem recovering her competitive spirit after returning from maternity leave.
Martina Navratilova
February 6, 2018

Motherhood won't mellow Serena Williams. When she returns to competition, starting with the Fed Cup this week, I would imagine she's going to be the same as she ever was - she will be just as competitive, just as strong, and she will still be going all out for every victory.

If life is now very different for her away from the court, I'm not expecting a new Serena on the court, especially as she so badly wants the all-time record for the most Grand Slams and to return to WTA World No.1. She's never been one to let anything or anyone stand in her way, and I don't expect that to have changed when, with 23 majors, she's just one short of Margaret Court's record. Finding her competitive spirit again won't be a problem when she returns from maternity leave.

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Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams (Getty Images)

As a sign of her desire to get back to winning Grand Slams again, Serena gave her all in trying to be ready for the Australian Open. That surprised me, and I'm sure it surprised others, too - I didn't think she would even attempt to be in Melbourne, so I was impressed she made such a determined effort to prepare for the opening major of the year, including traveling to Abu Dhabi for an exhibition match. Ultimately, she withdrew from the Australian Open but the fact she even tried to be there should give the other players something to think about. The reason Serena didn't play the Australian Open was that she wasn't interested in just being on court; she only cared about winning the title. As Serena felt that she couldn't win the Australian Open, then why play?

When Serena does step back on the WTA match court, you can be absolutely sure she will be primed to win titles again. She won't have played for over 12 months - her last tournament was the 2017 Australian Open. That's a long time to be away. I think the longest lay-off I ever had, even after having knee surgery, was two months. And the longer you are away, the more physical it becomes to get back to where you were before.

It's one thing to be away for a year when you're 26, but quite another to do it when you're 36. Everything just takes longer when you're older - recovery, injury prevention, recovering from tough matches, getting your energy up, working on your body. So I would assume that it's going to take her longer to get back into shape and feeling it on the court.

But no one should make the mistake of underestimating Serena - after all, she won last year's Australian Open while two months' pregnant with her daughter. Serena is so solid and she's got the big serve and the weapons in her game, so that gives her a lot of confidence. So it might not take her so long to get the feeling for the ball again.

Serena Williams

It helps that Serena is a young 36. She just hasn't played that many matches for someone her age. For a comparison in the men's game, take Roger Federer, who was born in August 1981, and who has played almost 1400 singles matches. Serena, born in September 1981, has played a little over 900. That makes a big difference, since everything is cumulative after all those years. It means her body is still quite young, and her psyche's different too, as her matches haven't always been so tough so she hasn't been under as much stress as perhaps she could have been.

I'm sure that Serena and Federer inspire each other. Quite simply, they make each other play better tennis. There's unspoken competition there, while they're open about their admiration for each other. I suppose it's always easier doing something - such as chasing tennis history - when you're doing it as a pair rather than on your own. Serena and Federer working as a pair, that's kind of cool.