PARIS (Reuters) - When Serena Williams was asked what she thought of Novak Djokovic’s declaration that she was “the greatest female athlete of all time, probably”, there was only one word in that statement that stood out for the American.
“Pro-bab-ly,” she said with a raised eyebrow as her voice trailed off. Subject closed.
However, by highlighting that single word it summed up where Williams, the winner of 23 major titles, thinks her place is among the sporting greats.
But as she makes her Grand Slam comeback at the French Open following the birth of her daughter Alexis Olympia last September, it was clear that her legacy remains incomplete.
While trying to surpass Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles might be one of the reasons she pushed herself to get back on court despite all her complications in childbirth, she also wants to see if she recover her pre-pregnancy form.
“If I were to play my former self, I’m not sure I would win. Thank God I don’t have to do that,” Williams said after surviving a tough three-set second-round tussle against Australian 17th seed Ashleigh Barty on Thursday.
Considering the last time she was in a Grand Slam arena she walked off as the champion, albeit while pregnant at the 2017 Australian Open, her hunger for success cannot be questioned.
But what she is now having to contend with is the physical changes her body endured during the pregnancy and her ability to work around the limitations she is still having to put up with.
Her phenomenal serve has not lost any of its sting and she sent nine aces flying past Barty. But Williams’ movement around the court is not as slick as she would like — although she has played only five singles matches since her daughter’s birth.
“This is just my third tournament back and I have had a long break since my last one, so I’m probably not where I was before I left,” said Williams, who is making a mockery of her ranking as the 451st best player in the world this week.
“But the good news is I feel like I’m definitely going to get there. And I don’t want to get there, I want to get beyond there. I don’t want to limit myself. That’s what I want to look forward to doing.
“I have definitely always had that will to win. It was something I was born with. I want to be able to do my best and one day tell my daughter that I tried my best.”
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris