One birth. Two surgeries. Ten months. Same old Serena Williams

Dan Wetzel
Serena Williams of the United States celebrates defeating Germany’s Julia Gorges in their women’s singles semifinal match at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London on Thursday. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

The following cannot be repeated enough.

A little over 10 months ago, on Sept. 1, 2017, Serena Williams gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. It was a joyous moment for the now-36-year-old and her now-husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

“That was an amazing feeling,” Serena told Vogue earlier this year. “And then everything went bad.”

“Bad” included the recurrence of blood clots in her lungs just a day after the C-section birth. That caused a coughing fit that reopened stitches and required immediate surgery.

When the blood clots were discovered, there was another surgery, this one an emergency. This was a significant scare. For a week, Serena was in the hospital, and for weeks and months after struggled with the dual challenges of being a new mother and a recovery from a serious health challenge. Her husband said she could barely walk last fall.

On Thursday, Serena Williams swiftly overwhelmed Julia Gorges 6-2, 6-4 to advance to the Wimbledon final. On Saturday, she will face Angelique Kerber seeking her eighth Wimbledon singles title and 24th overall, which would tie her with Margaret Court for the most Grand Slam singles titles.

Yet this one might be the greatest triumph of all.

One birth. Two surgeries. Ten months. Same old Serena.

“It’s not inevitable for me,” Serena told the BBC after the match. “I had a really tough delivery. I had to have multiple surgeries and almost didn’t make it, to be honest. I remember I couldn’t even walk to my mailbox. So, it’s definitely not normal for me to be in a Wimbledon final.”

Here we are again though with the now “Mrs. Williams” (she hasn’t decided how she wants to be referred to by tennis announcers). Motherhood and health challenges didn’t lessen her desire to win, it apparently increased it. Getting to bring Olympia here may be serving as a calming force. There is perspective. Or distraction.

Never doubt the strength of a mom. Even one just 15 matches into her return.

“When I feel like I don’t have anything to lose, I am free,” Serena said.

She continues to defy expectations and build on her legend 19 years after cementing herself as a great by winning the 1999 U.S. Open.

Serena and her sister Venus took tennis by storm back then, this improbable story of two girls from Compton raised and coached to be champions by their father, Richard, who owned a small security company, and their mother, Oracene, a nurse.

They learned the game via hours of relentless coaching by Richard on the cracked, gang-infested public courts on the corner of East Compton Boulevard and Lime Avenue – which the family jokingly dubbed “the Compton Hills Country Club.”

Richard and Oracene were self-taught players and inexperienced coaches, though. They copied drills and techniques from videos and books. It wasn’t until Venus and Serena moved to Florida – at the ages of 10 and 9 respectfully – to work with renowned coach Rick Macci that they developed the world class skills needed to be Grand Slam champions. Venus has won seven singles titles herself and together they have won 14 doubles titles.

Serena Williams, left, watches the action with husband Alexis Ohanian, top right, and their baby, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. during a match in the first round of Fed Cup tennis competition in Asheville, N.C., in February. (AP)

What Serena really learned back in Compton was how to battle, how to fight, how to will herself to victory. As the younger sister, she needed to figure out how to keep up with Venus, nearly two years her elder, while also satisfying a task-master father.

More than anything, that was on display outside London on Thursday. Her serve was dominant. Her shots precise and creative. Her ability to put Gorges on the defensive was constant.

You don’t even get here, though, at an advanced age for tennis players, in the year of your daughter’s birth, after two surgeries and a lengthy recovery, without toughness.

Mental toughness. Physical toughness.

That Serena possessed these attributes is not breaking news. It is a reaffirmation, though, that getting to watch her compete is a treat for tennis fans.

Williams has all the money and all the glory she needs. In the past year, she’s spoken wistfully about what it might be like to just retire from competitive tennis and be a full-time mother in San Francisco.

There is nothing else to prove. There is no reason for the immense sacrifice being a champion athlete requires.

Yet she keeps proving. Yet she keeps sacrificing.

Yet here she is. Yet here she was.

“Winning and losing is my life,” Serena said this week. “I want to continue being the player that goes out there and winning championships.”

On Saturday, she will – back in the finals, back on the brink of another title, back dominating the world.

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