Tennis great Martina Navratilova believes more women will continue to play professional tennis after having children – largely thanks to Serena Williams.
Retiring from tennis last month, Williams, 41, left a legacy that extends well beyond her 23 Grand Slam titles, the last of which she won at the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant with daughter Olympia .
She returned the following year and played in four Grand Slam finals – avoiding the idea that motherhood and a successful tennis career can’t go hand in hand.
According to Navratilova, Williams inspired a different mindset than she did in the 1970s and 80s when she dominated the sport.
“For women it was either-or, but now Serena has proven that you can have it both ways. There are a lot of other moms on the tour who have done really well,” the former world No. 1 told CNN en Español’s Elizabeth Pérez.
“The main reason we didn’t see it – there’s a few – the care wasn’t there, the money wasn’t there, and women just chose to have babies and then they didn’t come back.
“But now I think Serena paved the way for motherhood and is still an athlete. I think you’re going to see more and more women playing well into their 30s, maybe even into their 40s.”
Williams isn’t the only one paving the way for moms hoping to continue their tennis careers.
Earlier this year, Tatjana Maria, a mother of two, reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon 15 months after giving birth to her second child, while Victoria Azarenka has consistently ranked in the world top 20 since the birth of her son Leo in the year 2016
Navratilova, who holds the WTA Tour’s all-time record of 167 titles, enjoyed a long career during which she won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 Grand Slam doubles titles and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles.
After retiring from singles in 1994 at the age of 38, she continued playing doubles – and winning titles – into her 40s.
She remains associated with the sport as a coach, presenter and WTA Tour ambassador, and emphasizes the importance of screening to help fight certain diseases, such as breast cancer – which Navratilova was diagnosed with in 2010.
After retiring, she has watched a sport constantly evolve, especially when it comes to player longevity.
Navratilova believes it will be more common for players to have longer careers than in her day, following the trend of Williams and Roger Federer, who recently played the last game of his career at the age of 41.
“With the money that’s in tennis, people can take better care of themselves,” she says. “Especially with the knowledge we have of how to take much better care of our bodies – that extends players’ careers.
“Maybe (players will) not play as much every year, but also play longer and with better quality. The care is there, the mental health, all of that is being addressed much better now than it was in my day.”
Navratilova adds that William’s retirement will leave a void in tennis – “the energy she brought to the stadium was incredible,” she says – but believes the sport’s future lies with world No. 1 Iga Swiatek is in “big hands”.
The Polish star won her third Grand Slam title – and second of the year – at the US Open in September and at the age of 21 looks set to only add to her Grand Slam tally – particularly at their favorite sand surface.
“We can’t replace a Roger Federer or a Serena Williams,” says Navratilova, “but we can bring in new faces that will make us feel better about ourselves and hopefully entertain us for decades to come.”