Coming back from childbirth was always going to be her biggest challenge, but the baggage of trying to become the all-time great is proving a formidable haul even for Serena

Eight years ago, the documentary Venus and Serena followed the Williams sisters as they tried to survive the nadir of their careers. Venus prepared to do battle with Sjogren’s syndrome, while Serena plotted her way back from the first pulmonary embolism that had nearly killed her. During a quiet moment of the documentary, a quick break in the middle of practice, Serena noted to no one in particular that she had returned to the top 10 of the rankings. Isha, her sister, frowned and then responded with the question that has consumed all followers of the sport for 21 years: “Girl, how can you and Venus keep in the top 10 and y’all never play?”

The question remains unanswered. This week, Williams returned to the top 10 for the second time this year, one year after her first grand slam competition following maternity leave. It is absurd. She has completed only one tournament in 2019, the Australian Open, withdrawing after one match in her last three events. Over the past 52 weeks, she has only completed five events. For much of her career, she loomed as large over the tour in her absence as when she was there, but now her absence seems normal. The sport goes on.

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Sat, 25 May 2019 09:00:37 GMT