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Serena Williams’ Comeback at Wimbledon: One for the History Books and Beyond

Ranked 1,204 in the world, after missing competitive tennis for the past 12 months, Serena Williams has landed at Wimbledon to achieve what would be her greatest triumph if she becomes the first unseeded woman to win at the All England Club.
Serena Williams at Wimbledon 2022

Serena Williams will start her Wimbledon 2022 campaign against debutant Harmony Tan of France, ranked 113 in the world.

Serena Williams is attempting something unheard of in modern tennis: To win a Grand Slam while ranked outside of the top 1,000 in the world. 

Yet, we would find it hard to bet against the American legend. That too at one of her favourite hunting grounds. 

Ranked 1,204 in the world, after missing competitive tennis for the past 12 months, Williams has landed at Wimbledon to achieve what would be her greatest triumph if she becomes the first unseeded woman to win at the All England Club. Other records beckon her as well -- she is chasing her eighth Wimbledon title and her 24th Slam, attempting to equal Margaret Court’s all-time achievement. 

These are possibilities for the history book. However, Williams’ journey at SW19, her progress every single round, will signify much more -- from her grit to overcome mental and physical struggles to telling the world that she still has it to beat the odds. Something she achieved winning a Slam while pregnant, back in 2017 at the Australian Open.

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Williams, whose last singles tournament appearance was incidentally at the Wimbledon last year, when she limped out in tears in the first round against Aliaksandra Sasnovich, turns 41 in three months. And retirement is or was never in her mind, despite being away for a year.

“I didn't retire. I just needed to heal physically, mentally. I had no plans. I just didn't know when I would come back. I didn't know how I would come back,” Williams, who was runner-up at Wimbledon in 2018 and ’19 told reporters on Saturday.

Williams has had a good build-up to the Slam, albeit in the doubles arena. She warmed up by playing doubles with Ons Jabeur at Eastbourne, winning the title. She will start her Wimbledon campaign against debutant Harmony Tan of France, ranked 113 in the world.

Among the many things that have changed over the course of Williams’ absence includes the shake-up in women’s tennis hierarchy. The current World No. 1 is Iga Swiatek of Poland. She was born three years after Williams’ debut at Wimbledon in 1998. Swiatek is in the middle of a purple patch, having won a second French Open title on the back of a 35-match win streak. She is in awe of Williams but will do everything to stop the player she and many others on tour look up to as a role model. 

Challenging players a generation or two younger than her is something Williams is accustomed to doing. But her entourage, and thereby possibly her approach to matches, have also seen a change. She split with French coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who was in her corner for the past 10 years. Mouratoglou now coaches one of Williams’ rivals -- former World No. 1 Simona Halep, who beat the American the last time she reached the final at Wimbledon, in 2019.

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Eric Hechtman coaches both Serena and Venus Williams now.  Hechtman is the longtime director of tennis at the Royal Palm Tennis Club in Miami. He has known both the sisters for nearly 15 years, and has been coaching Venus since 2019.

The new coach understands what drives Williams, and hence is probably the right person to be by her side as she takes the plunge again. It is definitely not to just make a solid return to playing tennis, he was quoted as saying by the NYT.

“She’s a champion, right? And she’s playing Wimbledon for a reason,” Hechtman said. “Just like I think anybody that walks into the tournament, their goal is to win the event. And that’s our goal.”

Williams reiterated it as well when asked what she considers to be “a good outcome” at Wimbledon?

“You know the answer to that,” she was quoted by NYT. “C’mon now.”

That’s as cryptic as it gets, which will surely be deciphered in the coming fortnight. That’s what Williams is focusing at too, nothing beyond. For she knows what it takes to sustain as a player on the WTA tour. And, at her age, uncertainty comes part and parcel of the package.

“You know, I don’t know,” she said when asked about how long she plans to continue playing. “I can only tell you that I’m here. Who knows where I’ll pop up next? You’ve just got to be ready.”

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