When Serena Williams steps out on Centre Court to play Evgeniya Rodina in Wimbledon’s fourth round on Monday, it will be a rare meeting of mom versus mom.
Such matchups could happen with greater frequency as parenthood becomes increasingly popular on the women’s tennis tour.
There were half a dozen mothers in the singles main draw at the All England Club this year: 23-time Grand Slam event champion Williams; former No. 1 and two-time major champion, Victoria Azarenka; Rodina, Kateryna Bondarenko, Tatjana Maria and Vera Zvonareva.
Two more moms entered the doubles event, Mandy Minella and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. A ninth, Patty Schnyder, lost during qualifying for singles.
“At different points, we’ve had one or two mothers at a time. And then it’s grown to three or four mothers. And now we’ve seen that we have more, at present, than we’ve had in the past. There was Margaret Court. Evonne Goolagong. [Kim] Clijsters,” said Kathleen Stroia, WTA senior vice president for sport sciences and medicine about mothers who won Grand Slam event titles.
“The difference,” she said, “is that now it’s certainly something that is becoming common.”
Williams is competing in her second major tournament since having a daughter, Olympia, last September. Motherhood is an important part of who she is now.
The 36-year-old American has spoken openly about a health scare during childbirth. About gaining weight while breastfeeding. About the joys of bringing her child onsite to a tournament for the first time. About the difficulty of dividing her time between family and forehands. About the precedent the All England Club set by seeding her 25th, based on past success that includes seven Wimbledon titles, even though she was ranked outside the top 150 after missing more than a full season, first while pregnant, then after giving birth.
“It will be really nice for these women to take a year off, and have the most amazing thing in the world,” Williams said, “then come back to their job and not have to start from the bottom, scrape, scrape, scrape.”
She tweeted over the weekend about missing the chance to see Olympia take her first steps, because it happened during a training session.
What working parent can’t relate to that?
Azarenka knows it can be difficult to reconcile parenthood and a career.
“I really want to spend every second with him,” Azarenka said. “I feel guilty if I take 15 minutes for myself to stretch. I’m trying to run back to him and spend every second with him. So that’s the balance I think is the tough one.”
As a member of the WTA player council, Azarenka has been involved with discussions about how the tour can help the growing group of moms.
Among the topics: the “protected ranking” policy, which allows players to enter a certain number of tournaments based on where they were ranked before taking time off because of an injury, illness or pregnancy and whether a similar rule should be established with regards to seeding; and providing childcare facilities at other tournaments, similar to how the Grand Slams do.