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Serena Williams plans to play at Wimbledon

by YAR

PARIS (AP) — Serena Williams, absent from competitive tennis for nearly a year, said Tuesday that she intends to return for Wimbledon, which begins June 27.

Williams, 40, has not played on tour since retiring from a match in considerable pain with a right hamstring injury during last year’s Wimbledon first round against Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Sasnovich, from Belarus, is one of the players banned by Wimbledon this year due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has been supported by Belarus. But Williams plans to return, and Wimbledon confirmed on Tuesday that he would receive a wild card to play singles.

In preparation for Wimbledon, she intends to return to competition next week at the WTA event in Eastbourne, England, where she received a wild card to play doubles with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur. The British Lawn Tennis Association said in a statement confirming the wild card that Williams and Jabeur were not expected to play their opening round match before June 21.

Rennae Stubbs, a coach and former player who is an ESPN tennis analyst, said Williams’ return was particularly notable given her exit from Wimbledon last year, in which she left the court limping and crying. “I think it’s great to see her give herself one more chance to do something special,” Stubbs said.

Williams, clearly the premier female player of the 21st century, has not indicated whether it will be a farewell appearance or part of a farewell tour. But if she does return to the All England Club, it will be her 21st appearance at Wimbledon, where she won seven singles titles and seven doubles titles, six of the doubles titles with her older sister Venus Williams.

It’s unclear if Venus Williams, who turns 42 on Friday, also plans to return to the tour. She hasn’t competed since last August in Chicago and is not on the initial Wimbledon wild-card list.

Due to inactivity, both sisters’ rankings have dropped far from their usual zones. Venus Williams is number 571. Serena Williams is number 1,208, which explains why she needed a wild card to get into Wimbledon.

Williams’ short Instagram post on Tuesday morning announcing her plan to play Wimbledon also offered some other clues. She tagged the Eastbourne International tournament, which later confirmed her participation. She also tagged members of her support staff: Jarmere Jenkins, a hitting partner; Derick Pierson, physical trainer and Kristy Stahr, physical therapist. She also tagged Eric Hechtman, who coached Venus Williams before her hiatus and is the director of tennis at the Royal Palm Tennis Club in Miami. Hechtman is expected to train Serena Williams during this comeback.

Williams’ longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou recently started working with Simona Halep, a former No. 1 and Wimbledon singles champion. Mouratoglou began coaching Williams as a consultant before Wimbledon in 2012, and won 10 of his 23 Grand Slam singles titles during her collaboration.

In a text message, Mouratoglou declined to comment on Williams on Tuesday.

Williams hasn’t won a major title in more than five years. Her most recent victory was at the 2017 Australian Open when she was pregnant with her daughter, Olympia, who was born that same year.

Williams reached four Grand Slam finals after returning to the tour in 2018, but lost all four, including finals at Wimbledon in 2018 and 2019.

He remains one major short of Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles and, despite Williams’ remarkable record at Wimbledon, he will be unseeded if he actually plays for the All England Club.

Williams has competed sparingly in the last three seasons due to injuries and the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of Wimbledon in 2020.

“Hopefully, she’ll be able to physically handle the load and the matches,” Stubbs said. “If she gets a few wins under her belt, she never knows.”

The landscape of women’s tennis has changed dramatically since Williams limped off the court in anguish last year at Wimbledon 34 minutes into the first set of her match with Sasnovich.

Ashleigh Barty won the Wimbledon title and then reasserted herself as the No. 1 female player by winning the Australian Open in January, only to unexpectedly retire in March at age 25. With Barty gone, Iga Swiatek, just 21 years old, has taken it easy. She will dominate the women’s game, rising to the No. 1 ranking and winning six straight tournaments, including the French Open earlier this month. Swiatek has a winning streak of 35 singles matches.

But grass remains, for now, Swiatek’s weakest surface, and he withdrew from this week’s grass-court tournament in Berlin, citing soreness in one of his shoulders. Experience and great service remain the main advantages on the pitch. Williams has both despite his long absence from the tour.

“Tennis-wise it’s obviously not going to be easy, I haven’t played a match since Wimbledon last year,” Stubbs said. “But the grass definitely helps her, mainly because the points won’t be very long.”

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