Forget all the Grand Slam wins, this is Serena Williams’ masterpiece



Serena Williams is on the verge of completing the greatest sports career comeback of all time. It’s not because she had a baby but because she almost died having a baby.

Chasing her eighth Wimbledon victory in her second consecutive final at the All England Club, Serena will face Simona Halep on Saturday for her shot at a 24th Grand Slam title, which would tie Margaret Court’s all-time record. Currently ranked 10th in the world at 37 years old, Williams already has the record for most in the open era after her most recent major win, the 2017 Australian Open.

And as monumental of an achievement as No. 24 would be, the number itself has little to do with her comeback story.

Let’s remember everything Serena has been through since that last Grand Slam win. After the Australian Open title that January, she withdrew from a few tournaments citing a knee injury, and in April 2017, she announced she was 20 weeks pregnant and sitting out the remainder of the season. (Yes, she won in Australia while pregnant, beating older sister Venus, who joked that “it was unfair because it was two against one.”).

In September 2017, her daughter, Olympia, was born — and Serena nearly died.

Following an emergency C-section, the then-35-year-old superstar began experiencing shortness of breath, which led to the discovery of a pulmonary embolism, where at least one artery in the lungs is blocked by a blood clot. In a 2018 essay for CNN about the obscenely high rate at which black women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, Serena explained what happened next:

This sparked a slew of health complications that I am lucky to have survived. First my C-section wound popped open due to the intense coughing I endured as a result of the embolism. I returned to surgery, where the doctors found a large hematoma, a swelling of clotted blood, in my abdomen. And then I returned to the operating room for a procedure that prevents clots from traveling to my lungs. When I finally made it home to my family, I had to spend the first six weeks of motherhood in bed.

Six weeks.

Over the years, she’s recovered from muscle injuries, ankle injuries, back injuries, elbow injuries and, as recently as this spring, a knee injury. But nothing compares with her journey back following her daughter’s birth — since that birth led to Serena fighting to save her own life.

Pregnancy takes an undeniably serious toll on a person’s body, even when everything goes smoothly. But the physical and emotional stress of a birth and aftermath that went horribly wrong and almost cost Serena her life is unlike anything we’ve seen other athletes overcome.

Multiple surgeries after a C-section is a grueling recovery for anyone but particularly for a professional athlete looking to compete among the best again — which Williams remained determined to do.

She returned to the court only a few months later, although it was too soon, her coach said at the time. She’s also been open about other struggles, ranging from postpartum depression to losing weight and getting back in shape to simply not wanting to leave her daughter’s side.

At the 2018 French Open (Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports)

Serena competed in a Grand Slam event, the 2018 French Open, eight months after Olympia’s birth and was ranked No. 453 in the world at that point. Remember the catsuit for “all the moms out there that had a tough pregnancy”?

She then made back-to-back major finals after that at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open — she lost in both — and now, a couple months from Olympia’s second birthday, is again one match away from being back on top.

Just this spring, Tiger Woods captivated the nation, Serena included, when he won The Masters in another incredible sports comeback. His extended period of failing to compete made his sudden emergence all the more dramatic, but Serena nearly died a couple years ago and deserves the same — if not more — unbridled enthusiasm when she wins her next Grand Slam, whenever that may be.

While her comeback journey seemed to dominate the narrative surrounding her in 2018 as she made two Grand Slam finals, it feels like we’re back to taking for granted that she’ll have deep runs in major tournaments — even though we’re still waiting for her next victory.

But we have to recognize how remarkable this moment in her career is — not only because she’s Serena Williams, will be 38 in a couple months and is somehow still breaking records, but also because she almost didn’t survive having a baby.

Serena after each of her seven Wimbledon victories (L-R top) in 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010 and (L-R bottom) 2012, 2015, 2016.(Photo by AFP)

It’s been a challenging process to return to this level, extending her streak of reaching at least one major tournament final to 13 consecutive years.

And it’s not like she’s been perfectly healthy this season either. She dropped out of multiple tournaments this spring because of a knee injury before losing in the third round of the French Open in June, marking her earliest Grand Slam exit since 2014. She did, however, advance to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in January — beating none other than Halep on her way — before losing.

As she played her way back into the Wimbledon final over the last two weeks, she said this is best her body has felt in months. But while she’s seeded 11th in the tournament, Halep — who’s 27 and a fellow former No. 1 player in the world — will be her first opponent seeded higher at No. 7.

Some battles and a couple three-set matches on the grass court aside, Serena’s moments of brilliance, power and determination should continually and simultaneously remind us why she’s the greatest of all time and what it took for her to arrive at this point.

Serena didn’t need to return to the court to solidify herself as the GOAT. She had nothing to prove.

But, as she’s repeatedly said, she loves the game and the pressure that comes with it. And if she wins Saturday, she can officially add greatest comeback of all time to her extraordinary resume — even if her fans knew she was there already.

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Via OverwatchWire


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