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Tennis

Serena Back

Serena Williams walks onto the court at Wimbledon 2021.
AELTC/Jed Leicester/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Last year at Wimbledon, Serena Williams fell victim to dangerously slippery court conditions. During her first-round match, she slipped on the grass, injured her right hamstring, and had to retire from a major tournament for just the second time in her career. She’d had a productive season up to that point, highlighted by a semifinal appearance at the Australian Open, but shut it down after that injury. She has not played a match since. Almost all her ranking points have expired in her absence, sending her out of the top 1000, and, it seemed, towards eventual retirement. (Her 2022 has been split between promoting King Richard and cryptocurrency, and I definitely prefer her tennis to both.) On Tuesday, though, the 40-year-old Williams announced that she’d be accepting a wild card to play at Wimbledon. She’ll start her season next week at Eastbourne, a grass-court tune-up tournament.

Williams won her last major, the 2017 Australian Open, while pregnant with her daughter Olympia, and took over a year off from the tour. Her return kicked off what might be called the Late Serena era, where she got much pickier with her touring schedule, but proved she could still dominate big events. In those 13 post-pregnancy majors, she made four finals—losing to Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, and Bianca Andreescu—two semifinals, and one quarterfinal. She’s been a little shaky in those finals, however, failing to win a set, and as a result, there’s still one last record that eludes her. Adjusting for era and quality of competition, these feats are barely worth comparing, but on paper, her 23 major singles titles lie one short of Margaret Court’s 24.

The WTA has changed meaningfully since Serena last competed. In the meantime, we’ve seen the ups and downs of Naomi Osaka, the surprise retirement of Ash Barty, and the rise of world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who is assembling the kind of win streak unseen since Serena did it herself. It’ll be fascinating to see how the GOAT stacks up against new blood. Absence from the court has been a defining characteristic of the Late Serena era, but it will be hard to count her out at a tournament where she’s won seven singles titles.