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On Tennis: Serena Williams Is Back at Australian Open, for Tennis and So Much More

The last time she played the Australian Open, she was pregnant. Eight months later, she nearly died during childbirth. She named her baby girl Alexis Olympia. Months afterward, she married her daughter’s father, Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of the popular website Reddit.

Williams, same as ever, did not shy from attention — or from making a point. She shared her story publicly and said she was experiencing the same troubles faced by many other mothers. In her first Grand Slam tournament after childbirth, the 2018 French Open, she was not in shape, and she withdrew with an injury in the fourth round. She wore a sleek, black, full-body tennis suit. It was part fashion statement, part medical necessity — it reduced the chances of a recurrence of blood clots she experienced during childbirth.

But the “cat suit,” as it came to be called, was so controversial that French tennis officials discussed banning outfits like it from Roland Garros in the future. (As a countermove, the WTA, which governs the women’s tour apart from the Grand Slams, clarified its rules to allow compression garments to be worn without skirts or dresses over them.)

Undeterred, Williams spoke pointedly at Wimbledon about protecting rights of new mothers — on the tour and in the workplace. She marched through the draw. But, still out of shape, she lost in the final. A few weeks later, she withdrew from the Rogers Cup in Montreal, eventually citing postpartum depression, a condition that afflicts about 15 percent of all mothers but is often dogged by stigma.

Then came the United States Open.

Nobody here in Melbourne has forgotten what happened during the women’s singles final. Carlos Ramos, the umpire, spotted Williams’s coach motioning at her to be more aggressive. Ramos warned about a coaching infraction. Williams shouted with an angry, unyielding insistence that she had done nothing wrong, that she would never cheat.

Nobody has forgotten the smashed racket, the point deducted as a penalty, her continued shouting: “You’re a thief,” she defiantly yelled at Ramos.

Nor has anybody forgotten the game taken away as another penalty, Williams’s assertion that male players often behave badly and get away with it, the booing and the tumult, and finally her surprising loss to Naomi Osaka, a rising star who may threaten her again in this tournament.

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