London – Serena Williams made a victorious return to Wimbledon on Monday, winning her first match at the grand slam since claiming the title in 2016.
The 36-year-old overcame a slow start to defeat Dutch player Arantxa Rus 7-5, 6-3 in the first round, but knows she has a long way to go to regain championship form.
Since winning her last major title at the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant, Williams gave birth in September to daughter Alexis Olympia, who has travelled with her to London.
The seven-time Wimbledon winner admits that coping with the British weather conditions is tough, but balancing her schedule around quality time with her daughter can be even trickier.
“I haven't played a tremendous amount of tennis since I had the baby. And I haven't played in wind in a really long time. So I'm just not used to that yet,” said Williams, who was controversially seeded 25th for Wimbledon on her past merits despite being outside the top 100 in the rankings.
“I really don't like being away from my daughter. I also think it's healthy in a way for me to do what I need to do, be that working mom, then go back home and be the mom.
“I wake up early, something I've never said, to spend time with her. It's nice here because I had a later match. I spent all morning with her. Then she had her nap. Then I spent the rest of the time with her when she woke up,” she added.
The reality of the complexity of her life now really hit Williams when she played the French Open in May at her grand slam return.
She was forced to withdraw in the fourth round due to a chest complication during a doubles match with sister Venus.
“I realized at Roland Garros, if the days were long [and] I was playing singles and doubles there, that was hard because I felt guilty,” she said.
“I was like, I haven't seen Olympia, what am I doing? If it's the shorter days, now that I'm not playing doubles in this event, if I have the day off, I think that will help.”
However, Williams takes comfort in one family member who is always close by if Olympia needs anything.
“I wouldn't leave her if I didn't have a good system and a good person,” she said. “Grandma travels a lot now.”
Another issue playing on Williams' mind is an article on sports website Deadspin that revealed the unusual activity of her anti-doping tests with USADA, which claimed she was tested more than any other active American tennis player.
It led Williams to believe that she was being unfairly targeted, which caused her to complain to WTA CEO Steve Simon, with their conversation overheard in an airport before the article was published.
“I had literally no idea until the article came out. It's one of the few articles I read,” Williams said.
“Like everyone else, I was surprised. I didn't know those numbers, I didn't know I was being tested three times more, in some cases five times more, than everyone else.
“Why is it just one person as opposed to everyone? I'm just as curious as you guys are at this point.”
She admitted after Monday's match to being her own biggest critic, but remained positive.
“I'm just taking it one match at a time. I don't think I was at my best,” Williams said.
“I'm glad I had that win. In the future I'll be able to play a little bit better... It's all on the right track.”