Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams and Tsvetana Pironkova make it clear that sport and motherhood can go hand in hand, with an unprecedented achievement in a Grand Slam.
There will be several spots to remember this US Open 2020. One is the health “bubble” due to the coronavirus. Another is a male team with absences, surprises and the disqualification of Novak Djokovic for hitting a linesman. And a third, very interesting, is because it is the first Grand Slam in history with three mothers in the quarterfinalsl: Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka y Tsvetana Pironkova.
Successfully combining motherhood with a career in sports is no longer a utopia or an impossible. And if the three could make history, it is mainly due to the struggle of the two former number one. Because when they returned to the courts after giving birth, the American and the Belarusian joined forces and managed to get the WTA to introduce changes in its regulations at the end of 2018.
Today, for example, a player who returns to the circuit after her maternity leave can use the ranking she had before her pregnancy for a time, something similar to what happens with injuries and the protected ranking. It does not start from scratch to reinsert itself into the circuit. In addition, a clause was introduced that guarantees that they will not meet any seeded in the first round.
Pironkova benefited from those changes. The Bulgarian plays her first tournament after three seasons away from competition to dedicate herself to her family. Your son Alexander was born in April 2018 and, during the stoppage, who became the 31st in the world was left without a ranking. But thanks to WTA policy she was able to play again and do so in the main draw at the US Open.
“For a while after I became a mom, I couldn’t imagine going back. But then I started thinking about tennis more and more. The rule change was one of the reasons I decided to come back, because it gives me a great opportunity. I can play 12 tournaments, including two Grand Slams, with the ranking I had when I left. And that gives me a special motivation. Before we had two years to return; now we have three “, said who won in the round of 16 by 6-4, 6-7 (5-7) and 6-3 to the French Alize Cornet.
The Bulgarian, who had reached the semifinals at Wimbledon 2010 and the quarterfinals at Roland Garros 2016 before her momentary retirement, acknowledged: “If you have the right motivation, you can come back from motherhood and be a professional player. Having the opportunity for my son to see what I am doing makes me very happy“.
Williams and Azarenka are used to dividing their hours between rackets and their children. Although it was not easy for either of them to find a balance that allows them to dedicate themselves to their careers as tennis players and at the same time enjoy motherhood.
Serena, who beat Greek Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-7 (6-8) and 6-3 and took another step towards her 24th Grand Slam, gave birth to her daughter Olympia in September 2017 and returned to competition in March of the following year.
Months later, after getting off a tournament in Montreal, she acknowledged: “I work hard, I train and try to be the best athlete possible. But this also means that even though I have spent all the days of her life with my daughter so far, she cannot be as much with her as I would like. I felt like I wasn’t being a good mother“.
The American, number eight in the world, was adapting to her new life and in January this year she won her first post-return title in Auckland, which she celebrated with Olympia on the field.
Is that the little girl, who just turned three years old, he accompanies his mom everywhere, trips, trainings and tournaments. And she could be seen several times in the Flushing Meadows “bubble”, watching Serena play from the stands with her dad.
“The most beautiful thing is that one day your daughter will be able to say that she was herewhether you remember it or not. But on the other hand, I can’t spend that long with her. I can’t share all day and that’s hard, because I usually spend a tremendous amount of time with her, “said Williams, third favorite of the contest, who will star this Wednesday a mourning of mothers with Pironkova for the pass to semis.
Azarenka, who comes from defeating the Czech 5-7, 6-1 and 6-4 Karolina Muchova, has perhaps a greater challenge than its colleagues, because it is single mother. The 27th in the ranking gave birth to Leo in December 2016 and returned to play in June 2017.
But after separating from her partner Billy McKeague He had to fight a legal battle for the custody of his son, which prevented him from traveling for a time. “The balance is quite complicated, but it is fun,” he said after his final return in April 2018.
A few days ago, in New York, the owner of two Grand Slams (Australia 2012 and 2013), admitted that combining her two facets continues to be a challenge. But she also assured: “Not even when I was number one in the world or when I won Grand Slams had I been able to reach the level of happiness that I have today on the court. Seeing a woman being able to fulfill her sports dream and also motherhood is great“.
The Belarusian, who will face the Belgian in the quarterfinals Elise Mertens (16th seed), was crowned just over a week ago at the Cincinnati tournament, which was also played in Flushing Meadows for the pandemic, and was her first trophy as a mom. And she had Leo by her side at all times, with whom she could be seen enjoying some US Open matches at Arthur Ashe.