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Serena’s Wimbledon return: She’s dangerous, but recovery key

  • Matt Trollope

When news broke that Serena Williams would be playing Wimbledon, and that the All England Club would be awarding her a main-draw wildcard, the reaction was immense.

Several tennis stars – including world No.1 Iga Swiatek – were among thousands to respond to Williams' Instagram post with excited comments, while many others, such as Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Grigor Dimitrov, Ons Jabeur and Coco Gauff, indicated their approval by liking the image.

SWIATEK: "Doing something more than Serena did is something special"

It was understandably a massive story, given the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion has not been seen on court in almost a year. 

Alicia Molik and Nicole Pratt, captain and coach respectively of Australia's Billie Jean King Cup team, also noted Williams' comeback announcement with interest.

This interest was especially piqued given there were few hints Williams had been anywhere near a tennis court recently – let alone preparing to return at one of the sport's most storied tournaments.

"I'm a big Serena fan, and I follow her on Instagram, and I hadn't seen any tennis posts, so it surprised me as well," Molik told

Serena Williams reacts after suffering an injury at Wimbledon
A distressed Serena Williams was forced to retire due to injury in the opening set of her first-round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich at Wimbledon in 2021. She has not competed since. (Getty Images)

Williams is a seven-time Wimbledon champion, reaching back-to-back finals as recently as 2018-2019. But she hasn't won the title at SW19 since 2016, nor lifted the trophy at any of the majors in more than five years. 

Given her most recent competitive match came at Wimbledon last year – injury ended that after just six games – and the fact she is soon to turn 41, both Molik and Pratt expressed reservations about how she might fare physically.

"I think it's possible to play at a very high level, at the age that she is, for a match. Where the issue lies is your recovery. That's what starts to decrease over time," Pratt told

"But that's the beauty of the Grand Slams: there's a day off between matches, weather permitting... (it) allows her that extra recovery time that she needs.

"Recovery will be an issue, in my opinion. If she has a long match, and let's say it rains, and she's got to back up the day after. That is going to be tough, at that age, no question."

Added Molik: "She hasn't been playing as much as every other player on tour, and the rigours of the tour, and playing, recovering, training and potential injuries are tough enough at the best of times. 

"She's played tennis her whole life; muscle memory is always going to be there. But it's the (fact of) not competing. Your body works at a different tilt in competition compared to practice; you push yourself harder, you sprint faster, and that opens your body up to a lot of tiredness, niggles, injury.

"I'm praying it's a healthy Wimbledon for Serena. Let's see her compete at a great level."

Currently ranked outside the top 1,000, Williams is expected to be unseeded at Wimbledon, just the second time in 15 years that she has not enjoyed seeded status at a major. 

This makes possible a blockbuster first-round meeting with any one of the WTA's multitude of talented stars and major winners.

Serena Williams won the most recent of her seven Wimbledon singles titles in 2016, by beating Angelique Kerber in the final. (Getty Images)

Yet given her weapons, and her grass-court pedigree within an open, comparatively inexperienced field, Pratt believes Williams could strike fear in opponents – regardless of their rank or seed – and be a force in the early rounds.

"I think she wins 70, 80 per cent of her matches psychologically," Pratt said.

"The champion she is, she's built that reputation, and it's scary to play Serena Williams. And it's even scarier to play Serena on grass. 

“With the serve, with the return, and the plus-ones, she can be in complete control and you don't have a say in the point. Which mitigates the need for (optimal) physicality."

Molik, a former world No.8, has first-hand experience of just that.

She faced Williams on Court No.1 in the second round of the 2007 Championships, falling 7-6(4) 6-3 in an experience she described as both enjoyable and intimidating.

Serena Williams in action during her second-round match against Alicia Molik at Wimbledon in 2007. (Getty Images)

"She's a very commanding presence at the best of times, let alone somewhere that she's won seven times. On the grass, I don't know what it is about Wimbledon, but she just steps up a gear," Molik noted.

"Because of the silence of the crowds there, more than any other slam, her power and the grunt is magnified. You feel like you're in a bit of a colosseum when you play against her."

Yet unlike Pratt, Molik feels Williams' potential first-round opponents would jump at the opportunity to take on the American superstar, given opportunities to face her are increasingly rare.

"She's not the No.1 player in the world anymore, but whoever she draws will be desperate to beat her, because it's still Serena. Unfortunately for her, everyone is going to be gunning for her. A win over Serena is still a win over Serena," Molik said.

"I hope she enjoys it; you can put so much pressure on yourself after not competing for a year."

Williams will ease into match play with a competitive return at next week's tournament in Eastbourne, playing doubles with Tunisian star Ons Jabeur. 

And then it is on to Wimbledon, where she will contest the tournament for the 21st time – again targeting Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 major singles titles. 

"If there is ever a surface I think Serena can do well on, with limited match play, it is grass at Wimbledon," Pratt said.

"I think it's really exciting for women's tennis, and as we increasingly talk about Iga, who's just absolutely dominating, would it be Serena who can knock herself off that perch? That would be an amazing storyline. Imagine that: Iga versus Serena first round?

"I'm sure the story for fans will be: this could be Serena Williams' last Wimbledon – get your ticket, come down and watch potentially the greatest player of all time."

Among them will be Molik.

"I can't wait to see her play; I'm going there (to Wimbledon) for the Aussies, but I will be at Serena's match," she said. 

"I'm 100 per cent going to watch that.”