Two years, a baby and a wedding later, Serena Williams is back to crushing opponents on the blue courts of the Australian Open.

A lot has changed since a pregnant Williams lifted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup at Melbourne Park 24 months ago, yet she jokes that there’s only one main difference between then and now.

“I’m not pregnant – that’s the biggest difference,” she said with a laugh following her unforgiving 6-0 6-2 victory over her friend, Florida neighbour and fellow mother Tatjana Maria in the first round on Tuesday.

Back in 2017, Williams’ Australian Open triumph saw her break Steffi Graf’s Open Era record and clinch a 23rd Grand Slam.

This fortnight, the all-time mark of Margaret Court is at stake, and Williams looks ready to conquer history once again.

“I have been going for the record what seems like forever now,” the 37-year-old admits.

Such is the magnitude of Williams’ impact on the sport that even her opponents find it hard to root against her in her pursuit of that mythical 24th major trophy.

“I have a lot of respect for her because of what she did for the sport and maybe I was a little bit overwhelmed,” confessed Maria after their first round. “To be honest I wish she will do it [equal Court’s record]. Why not? It’s Serena, she won a lot of Grand Slams, why not win another one?”

Williams’ next test will be against Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, who had to stop herself from gushing over the American ahead of her their highly anticipated showdown.

“I admire obviously the longevity of her career, her dominance over such a long amount of time, how she’s come back so many times from injury, pregnancy, et cetera. I mean, I don’t want to talk about it too much and put her on too much of a pedestal because I have to play her in two days, but I love her,” said Bouchard, whose own comeback has caught the eye of Williams.

The No. 16 seed said of Bouchard: “She does everything well, and I really like that she doesn’t quit. You know, people write her off, and she doesn’t let that bother her. She continues to fight and do what she needs to do.”

Serena Williams
Serena Williams
Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou describes her as “an icon” and he is not wrong.

At this point in her long career, Williams transcends the sport in many ways, and is well aware of her own influence and reach.

Over the past few years, especially since her return from maternity leave last March, she has been as outspoken as ever about issues that matter to her. She’s been making statements with her outfits – the green romper she is sporting this Australian Open being the latest one – and has also been sharing her experiences with other working mothers.

Williams concedes that every time she leaves her daughter Olympia to go to practice or play a match, she “feels guilty”, but also acknowledges that it’s an unavoidable reality.

She tries to spend every spare moment with Olympia, whose doll, Qai Qai has been the talk of social media lately.

“Qai Qai is a doll I got for her. I wanted her to have a black doll. Growing up, I didn’t have that many opportunities to have black dolls. And I was just thinking I want her first doll to be black. And her heritage, obviously she’s mixed, she’s Caucasian and black, but I feel like that was her first doll and I said her second doll would be Caucasian,” explained Williams.

“I definitely want to always teach her love and teach her just basic human, what humans should always have love for each other, no matter what colour they are.”

Williams addressed the press on Tuesday wearing a t-shirt that read ‘Until we all win’ – another message she is keen to convey.

“It’s something that I have been working on – working on different ideas, until we can all win, not just have one person or one look or one style or one gender. It’s just across the board until we all win.”

Who better to spread that message than the sport’s ultimate winner, right?

Source: Reem Abulleil