photo : sports illustrated
Earlier this week, shockwaves were sent through the tennis community as the great Serena Williams announced her return to the sport. It has been a year since she exited Wimbledon with an alarming injury. In the seventh game of her first round match at the Championships in 2021, she went down crying in pain with what was later confirmed to be a torn hamstring.
Serena has won the grass-court major seven times in her career and unsurprisingly was awarded a wild card into the tournament. The surprising part is that she kept the news very quiet. Not even a whisper of her return was heard until she posted on Instagram that she had a date with SW19.
One thing we do know about the legend is she would not return to professional tennis if she wasn’t ready. In arguably the greatest career of all time, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. On multiple occasions, she’s had to overcome lengthy absences from the tour but has always returned with ferocity. In case you may have forgotten, here’s a trip down memory lane of the Queen’s best comebacks.
Knee Surgery 2003-2004
The early 2000s was the peak of the Williams sisters’ dominance. From mid-2000 to mid-2003 they had a streak winning 9 of 14 majors which included the memorable “Serena Slam” where she won four in a row.
Following the 2003 Wimbledon final, where Serena defeated Venus for her 6th grand slam title, Serena had surgery on her left quadriceps tendon. After eight months away from the tour, she began her comeback at the 2004 Miami Open.
The comeback didn’t take long as she won the title for a third consecutive year. Entered as the number one seed with a protected ranking, she lost just one set in the tournament and defeated Elena Dementieva 6-1 6-1 in the final.
Injuries & Mental Health 2006
Despite a successful comeback from knee surgery, continued injury and mental health struggles plagued the mid-2000s. The worst came in 2006 following a third round exit at the Australian Open when she announced that she was playing with an injury.
Years later in her biography, she admitted mental health struggles were a concern as well. For many months she had shut herself off from the tour and dropped outside the top 100 in the rankings. She played a few tournaments in the summer of 2006 but did not fare particularly well.
At the start of 2007, Williams stated her intention to return to the top of the game. Not many believed this was possible, but she proved everyone wrong by winning the 2007 Australian Open.
This was arguably the best comeback of her career because most of the tennis world regarded her as an out of shape has been. Even her sponsor, Nike, threatened to drop her if she did not perform well.
The so-called has been has since won another 16 major crowns and has become arguably the greatest player of all time.
Pulmonary Embolism 2011
By 2010, Serena had returned to the top of the game. Ranked No. 1 at that year’s Wimbledon she won without dropping a set for her 13th major.
She did not play a professional match for the next 12 months due to a life-threatening health scare. A blood clot in her lungs caused a pulmonary embolism that nearly took her life.
It wasn’t until the grass season the following year that she made yet another triumphant return to the sport. This comeback was by far the hardest physically and it took a little longer to fully return to her best game, but as always, she eventually did.
After a fourth round loss, while attempting to defend her Wimbledon title, she excelled on the North American hardcourt swing, winning titles in Stanford and Toronto and reaching the finals of the US Open.
Years of dominance ensued for Serena, culminating in her 23rd grand slam title at the 2017 Australian Open. After the tournament, she revealed that she was pregnant with her first child.
Her pregnancy was monitored closely due to her diagnosis with DVT (deep vein thrombosis) which caused her pulmonary embolism in 2011. After giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. in Septbember 2017, she once again had a pulmonary embolism that left her bedridden for weeks.
It wasn’t until February 2018, that she made her return by playing Fed Cup. She struggled with early exits at Indian Wells, Miami, and the French Open before making the finals at Wimbledon. Her first of four major finals as a mother.
Now once again, this time at 40 years of age, Serena is making another highly anticipated comeback. Excluding the injury retirement in 2021, she’s made the finals at Wimbledon in her four previous appearances. If history is any indicator, it would be a huge mistake to count her out. However, it’s been over five years since her last major victory. Therefore, the question remains: is Serena simply a potential unseeded threat to the top players or is she a contender for the trophy?