Williams’ pregnancy elevates the past and raises questions on future

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In declaring her pregnancy, Serena Williams added a layer of gloss to her sublime victory at this year’s Australian Open and sparked immediate questions about her tennis future.

Seven victories, 14 successive sets won and a 23rd grand slam title – the performance from Serena Williams at the Australian Open in January was special even before news broke the 35-year-old was pregnant at the time.

“I’m happy to confirm Serena is expecting a baby this fall,” spokeswoman Kelly Bush Novak said late Wednesday in the United States. It will be her first child.

Earlier the tennis superstar posted a picture of herself on Snapchat with what appeared to be a baby bump and the caption “20 weeks.”

The picture, which was later taken down, was widely reposted on social media, along with excited messages of congratulations from her fans.

“It does make what she did in Melbourne even more spectacular,” former world number one Pam Shriver told the New York Times. “But having been pregnant a couple times, including with twins, if you’re going to win a major when pregnant, guess what the right time to do it is? The first two months.”

Williams will not play again this season and, though she will return to the number one spot in the world next week through a scheduling quirk, German Angelique Kerber has been handed the chance to establish herself top of the pile.

“You will be a fantastic mother and I wish your family health and happiness for the best journey in the world,” Kerber wrote to Williams via Twitter.

After her triumph in Melbourne, Williams was not to be seen on a tennis court with tournaments at Indian Well and Miami skipped due to stated knee complaints.

The big question is now whether the best player in the history of women’s tennis will return at all? Or is the announcement of her pregnancy the first step towards retirement?

According to Novak Bush, Williams aims to return in 2018 but whether this happens remains to be seen. She would not be the first – the legendary Margaret Court, won the last three of her 24 grand slams in 1973 after the birth of her son.

Belgium’s Kim Clijsters returned from the birth of a daughter to win two US Opens and the Australian title while from current players, Victoria Azarenka is targeting an autumn comeback after her son was born in December.

“I think if Serena wants to come back after having a baby, I think she’s proven at this point that age is not a big factor for her,” said Shriver.

“I don’t think it really matters if you’re 35 or 37 or 38. You’re part of that same age group, and once you’ve gotten over that mental hump of competing at this higher level in your 30s, which she obviously has, it is certainly possible.”