Seven-times Wimbledon champion Serena Williams has revealed that becoming a mother has only served to heighten her already considerable competitive edge.
Williams, who gave birth to her first child, Olympia, in September 2017, is back at Wimbledon this year and has said that even she has been surprised by the sudden return of her desire to win.
“I feel like it’s stronger because I’ve been through so much,” she told a pre-tournament press conference on Sunday. “I put so much on the back burner. I feel like even more so, I’m even more competitive … It definitely surprises me a little because I thought, you know, it would be different.”
“I thought, you know, 'Hey, I have this amazing child, I have all these grand slams, this is all super bonus,’ and it is,” she continued. “I definitely feel a lot less pressure out there, but I’m a little bit shocked at how much I almost want that pressure.”
And her husband Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit, has also spoken out about being constantly left in awe of Williams’ “toughness.”
“She’s always had this resilience and toughness, mentally and physically, but now she has this ‘mom strength button’ that she pushes and it’s just so powerful’,” he told the Sunday Times, ahead of the start of Wimbledon on Monday.
He also praised flexible working hours for fathers in the interview, saying that he hasn’t had to “miss a beat” in Olympia’s first months of life after he was able to take paternity leave.
This will be Williams’ first Wimbledon since she nearly died giving birth last year. She opened up about her complicated childbirth in an interview with Vogue in January, after she had a cesarean section and then, the the day after giving birth, received treatment for a life-threatening blood clot that Williams herself pointed out to doctors.
Her story drew attention to the issue of maternal mortality, which affects black mothers at a far higher rate than white mothers. Black mothers are 243% more likely than white mothers to die from pregnancy or complications related to childbirth in the US, according to ProPublica.
“While part of the disparity can be attributed to factors like poverty and inadequate access to health care, there is growing evidence that points to the quality of care at hospitals where a disproportionate number of black women deliver, which are often in neighborhoods disadvantaged by segregation,” a report from ProPublica and NPR said.
5/ Dacheca Fleurimond gave birth at a Brooklyn, NY, hospital. Like Williams, she was at very high risk for blood clots. Less than two days after her delivery, she died from an embolism, leaving behind 7 children: https://t.co/892iUmIWMMpic.twitter.com/gvxzySH6Vk— ProPublica (@ProPublica) January 10, 2018
ProPublica, which has catalogued maternal mortality statistics in the United States, posted a Twitter thread following Williams’ interview highlighting the dangers mother — especially black mothers — face during childbirth.
And it highlighted in the thread that up to 60% of maternal deaths are preventable.
“But one way to prevent them is to talk to and learn from the women who have nearly died from these complications,” it wrote.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 99% of all maternal deaths take place in developing countries.
“The high number of maternal deaths in some areas of the world reflect inequities in access to health services, and highlights the gap between rich and poor,” it said.
While Williams won the last of her grand slam titles — the Australian Open — when she was already eight weeks pregnant, her pregnancy then meant she missed last year’s Wimbledon. But in 2016, Williams won her seventh Wimbledon singles title and sixth doubles title — so all eyes will be watching as she continues her comeback this year.
“You know, I almost want to feel the need to go out there and be the best that I can be,” Williams added in the press conference.
If Williams does win again, she’ll be the fourth female player to win a title after having a child — following in the footsteps of Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Margaret Court, and Kim Clijsters, according to the Guardian.
And this could be a very significant year for Williams, who’s currently just one grand slam singles title behind Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 wins.