Serena Williams won her 73rd tennis title on Sunday, at the ASB Classic in New Zealand. It was her first championship win since she gave birth to daughter Alexis Olympia in 2017. But while she said she felt like this victory took a long time to happen, for moms watching at home, it might have come at just the right time.
“It’s been a long time,” she told CNN of the win, for which she’s donating her $43,000 prize money to Australian wildfire relief. “I think you could see the relief on my face… It’s pretty satisfying just to get a win in the final. That was really important for me, and I just want to build on it. It’s just a step towards the next goal.”
It’s not that I wouldn’t have loved if she’d won a title earlier in the past two and half years. Williams is an absolute inspiration as an athlete and as a champion for all moms. Before and after having a daughter, she battled racism, negative criticism of her outspoken manner and uncalled-for words about her body. She called attention to the way doctors didn’t heed her worries about her blood-clot condition as she was giving birth. She opened up about having postpartum depression. She stood up for her right to wear a special bodysuit that would help prevent blood clots, even though tournament officials wanted to ban the outfit for being “too revealing.” She even apologized to Naomi Osaka for the 2018 U.S. Open incident in which she made her conflict with an umpire the focus of attention, instead of Osaka’s win.
Incredible presentation at @ASB_Classic !
First @serenawilliams meets the legendary Ruia Morrison…
…then she announces she will donate her prize money (and a dress from each of her matches) to the bushfire relief effort! pic.twitter.com/xNVYAeLn3u
— WTA (@WTA) January 12, 2020
These were all reasons to root for Williams before now. But here’s why I’m just a little bit glad that she hasn’t won any finals until Sunday: It shows everyone that having a baby is not a thing from which anyone, not even G.O.A.T. Serena Williams, can “bounce back” in no time. Rather, motherhood is a completely new state of being. And it’s not entirely reasonable to expect our bodies (not to mention our minds) to perform exactly the same way they did before we birthed a human. In some ways they’ll be better, in some ways worse.
Williams shocked and delighted us when she revealed she won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant with Olympia. That was cool. At the same time, all the women bent over toilets in their first trimester might not have been all that amused to hear of her accomplishment.
Williams was spectacularly driven in her ability to get into shape and reach four Grand Slam championships mere months after her traumatic childbirth. Many of us have accomplished similar (albeit non Grand-Slam-worthy) feats in our own careers, wrapping up our too-short maternity leaves and leaning in to our work responsibilities with fierce determination to win just as much as we did before. This is despite the fact that we actually now have two jobs instead of just the one (plus, the new job is crazy unpredictable and pays shockingly little).
Parenting does get a little easier with time, however. Or at least we get used to it being so freaking hard. And that’s when some of us wake up one morning finding we have a little more of ourselves to give to work. I wonder if that’s what’s happening to Williams right now, and if it will continue to happen for her next week, as she starts the Australian Open. But if it doesn’t happen, I for one will completely understand.