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Serena Williams Discusses Her Return to Wimbledon

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WIMBLEDON, England — At first glance, it definitely looked like business as usual at Wimbledon on Saturday.

Two days before the beginning of this Grand Slam tournament, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were practicing on adjoining grass courts with the steeple of St. Mary’s Church for a backdrop.

Because the two longtime rivals trained within the English sunshine, Serena Williams took a seat under the spotlights within the principal interview room, as she has scores of times before.

But though his shall be her twenty first Wimbledon, it should be an occasion like no other for Williams. She is returning to the All England Club at 40, having not played a singles match since last 12 months’s Wimbledon, when she tore her right hamstring after slipping in the course of the first set of a first-round match that she was unable to finish on Centre Court.

I asked Williams how much she was motivated during her comeback by the will to present herself a unique memory at Wimbledon?

“It was at all times something, for the reason that match ended, that was at all times on my mind,” she said. “So it was an amazing amount of motivation.”

Centre Court, now 100 years old and still probably the most atmospheric showplace within the skilled game, has been the stage for a lot of a triumph for Williams, who has won seven Wimbledon singles titles.

However it was all about pain and disappointment last 12 months. She was in tears as she tried to proceed after her injury and was in tears again after being forced to stop the match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich. Though Williams was capable of limp off the court, she stumbled as she left the grass and needed assistance to succeed in the passageway resulting in the exit to the clubhouse.

“You never want any match to finish like that,” Williams said. “It’s really unlucky, but it surely was definitely something that’s at all times been at the highest of my mind.”

It has taken a 12 months for her return to the tour, withdrawing from three straight Grand Slam tournaments and sparking comprehensible speculation about whether she intended to proceed playing tennis in any respect.

“I didn’t retire,” she said on Saturday, picking her words with particular care. “I had no plans to be honest. I just didn’t know after I would come back. I didn’t know the way I might come back. Obviously, Wimbledon is such a terrific place to be, and it just sort of worked out.”

Since her last appearance on the All England Club, she has split with Patrick Mouratoglou, the high-profile Frenchman who has coached her for the last 10 years. Mouratoglou is now working with Simona Halep, a former No. 1 who produced perhaps the best performance of her profession to defeat Williams in straight sets within the 2019 Wimbledon final.

Williams is now coached by Eric Hechtman, a former University of Miami tennis player who’s the longtime director of tennis on the Royal Palm Tennis Club in Miami. He has known each Williams and her older sister Venus for nearly 15 years and has been coaching Venus Williams since 2019.

Now Hechtman is coaching them each, although Venus Williams, 42, has yet to play a match on tour this 12 months and can miss Wimbledon for the primary time since 2013. Hechtman said the choice to start coaching Serena Williams was made with Venus’s blessing. Though that is his first tournament with Serena, he clearly understands the goal will not be simply to make an appearance and improve on last 12 months, irrespective of how long Serena has gone without competing.

“She’s a champion, right? And she or he’s playing Wimbledon for a reason,” he said. “Identical to I feel anybody that walks into the tournament, their goal is to win the event. And that’s our goal.”

Williams made that clear, as well, when asked what she would consider “a great consequence” at Wimbledon this 12 months?

“You realize the reply to that,” she said, smiling. “C’mon now.”

Still, Williams was vague by design through much of Saturday’s news conference, declining to present a precise date when she decided to play Wimbledon, saying only that she made the choice before the French Open, which began in late May.

She also steered away from political topics. Some distinguished American women’s athletes, including the soccer star Megan Rapinoe, have voiced their opinion on Friday’s Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Rapinoe has expressed opposition to the court’s decision, which removes the constitutional right to have an abortion, but Williams selected not to supply a viewpoint.

“I feel that’s a really interesting query,” she said. “I don’t have any thoughts that I’m able to share at once on that call.”

It was unclear why Williams selected not to reply. She is a Jehovah’s Witness, a spiritual faith whose members discover as Christians and who imagine that the Bible teaches them to stay politically neutral. But Williams didn’t cite her religion on Saturday as a reason for reserving her opinion.

Her reticence was in sharp contrast to the American Coco Gauff, 18, who made an appearance within the principal interview room later within the day. Gauff has been desirous to speak out on social issues and made an appeal to finish gun violence in the course of the French Open on her strategy to the ultimate earlier this month.

“I’m obviously dissatisfied concerning the decision,” Gauff said of the Supreme Court ruling. “Obviously I feel bad for future women and ladies now, but I also feel bad for individuals who protested for this I don’t even know the way a few years ago, but who protested for this and are alive to see that call be reversed.”

Gauff added: “I feel like we’re almost going backwards.”

But she urged activism. “I still need to encourage people to make use of their voice and never feel too discouraged about this because we are able to definitely make a change, and hopefully change will occur.”

Williams also demurred when asked about Wimbledon’s decision to bar Russian and Belarusian players this 12 months due to war in Ukraine. The list of those that have been banned includes Sasnovich, the Belarusian who faced Williams last 12 months on Centre Court.

“One other heavy subject that involves an amazing amount of politics, from what I understand, and government,” Williams said. “I’m going to step away from that.”

What she’s going to do at Wimbledon is step back into Grand Slam tennis. Her first-round match against 113th-ranked Harmony Tan of France is scheduled for Tuesday, probably on Centre Court. And though Williams, long No. 1, now has a rating within the quadruple digits (1204), she shall be the favourite on the grass despite her layoff.

“Every match is tough, every match,” Williams said. “You’ll be able to’t underestimate anyone or any match, any day.”

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