Playing Tennis like a Mother
There is no denying that Serena Williams is one of, if not the, greatest tennis player of all time. Much was made this year of her return to Wimbledon, and to professional tennis, after giving birth to her first child, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr, last year. The five-time Wimbledon champion did not disappoint, reaching the final in an incredible run of form, one which would put the men who return from injury to shame. It was very hard, prior to the beginning of the competition to find articles about the professional which made no reference to her new role as a mother.
The media coverage of Williams’ return to Wimbledon was, in the run up to the tournament, typically unsure of the capability of a new mother to achieve at her career. Ranked 449th in the world after her year out from playing, it was called into question whether Wimbledon would give Serena a seeding for the tournament. After pressure was put on Wimbledon however, with many raising the point that a player should not be punished for having a baby, she was seeded 25, putting her in the more favourable half of the draw. Once the competition began, Williams showed all the naysayers exactly why that was the right decision. She powered through to the finals, looking as strong as she ever has, and the media was mostly won over. The press focused on her matches and successes, forgetting briefly about the fact that she had recently made a baby human.
Once the final arrived, and Serena lost to Kerber, the press remembered that she was a mother again, not in the least because Williams reminded them. Speaking after her straight-sets loss to the incredibly powerful Kerber, she smashed the stereotype of the “supermom” like she has previously smashed tennis records. Rather than minimising the role that motherhood has had in her life over the past ten months, or agreeing with the suggestion that she is superhuman or a particularly amazing type of mother she stated simply; “I’m just me”. In just three words, she quashed the idea that she, or any other woman, is changed because of having children. These women are still themselves. Williams is still a 24-time grand slam winner. She did not gain extra superpowers after giving birth, she just went back to work.
Since then, the majority of the coverage of her tournament has been surprisingly positive, and has turned quickly to her strategies for the US Open. The few articles that bucked this curve exclaimed that “Serena Williams get emotional over losing Wimbledon”, or that her “husband speaks of his pride”, in headlines that sit much more comfortably with the idea that this woman should from now on be seen in terms of her femininity, emotionality, and family situation, not the physical prowess that she possesses and has demonstrated. Serena didn’t lose Wimbledon, far from it, and I would like to see any one of those reporters stand across from her 128 mph serve and continue to write about her solely in terms of her husband. There is no doubt that Serena Williams returning to work in such a spectacular manner, all the while contributing to normalising the notion that she can be a mother without it impacting her job, is a positive step for feminism and mothers everywhere, of all skills, working or not working. She’s only getting started, and I hope the media will sit up and take note of that, following her continued success.