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Serena Williams still hungry for Slam glory despite mum's role

 

By Robert Jones

Serena Williams admits she is still adjusting to the unique challenge of chasing an eighth Wimbledon title while making time for her baby daughter.

Williams is back at Wimbledon for the first time since giving birth to Alexis Olympia in September, and the former World No.1 is having to get used to the increased demands on her time.

Few female players have succeeded at Grand Slam level after becoming mothers - only Kim Clijsters did it recently at the US Open in 2009, while Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley also won majors after giving birth.

The joys of being a mum haven't dulled Serena's fierce competitive instincts and, aiming to add to her haul of 23 major titles, she started her latest Wimbledon campaign with a 7-5 6-3 win over Holland's Arantxa Rus yesterday.

But the 36-year-old conceded it isn't easy to come to terms with spending time away from her daughter to focus on her tennis.

"It's hard. I realised at Roland Garros, if the days were long, I was playing singles and doubles there, that was hard because I felt guilty," she said.

"I was like, I haven't seen Olympia, like what am I doing. If it's the shorter days, now that I'm not playing doubles in this event, I have the day off, I think that will help.

"She definitely notices when I'm away. I'm there every day of her life. So she does get super excited when I come back in. You guys are making me miss her.

"I really don't like being away from her. I also think it's healthy in a way for me to do what I need to do, be that working mom, then go back home and be the mom."

Having endured complications from her daughter's birth, Serena was playing only her second Grand Slam this year. She won her first three matches at the French Open before pulling out due to a pectoral injury.

Since a 2014 third round loss to Alize Cornet, Serena has now won 15 successive matches at Wimbledon - she took the title in 2015 and 2016 before missing last year's tournament due to her pregnancy.

Twenty years after making her Wimbledon debut, there were a few signs of rust against Rus and Serena was pleased to get her first Wimbledon match as a mother out of the way.

"It felt good to play, just to be back on the grass. Two years, over a year. It definitely felt good," she said.

Williams is the second oldest player in the women's draw - her sister Venus is 38 - but even motherhood can't persuade her to consider retiring when she sees Swiss star Roger Federer thriving at the same age.

"I'm just playing until Roger stops. Gosh, how long? Did he put a time limit on it?" she said.

"We are in it together. As long as he's here, I'm going to try to be here."

US Open champion Sloane Stephens crashed out in the first round after a straight-sets defeat to Donna Vekic.

Stephens, who was also the runner-up at the French Open last month, was downed 6-1 6-3 by the unseeded Croatian.

It was a tough draw for the fourth seed as Vekic is a threat on grass, but Stephens put in an erratic display.

"I am very happy to win, it was a tough match," Vekic said.

"I am really happy. I tried to go out there and be aggressive, I was struggling with my serve, it was windy, so I am happy to get through.

"I played all the tournaments on grass, I really enjoy playing on it and it helped me."

Six-time champion Venus Williams overcame a scare to beat Swede Johanna Larsson.

Williams came back from a set down to win 6-7 (3/7) 6-2 6-1.

Caroline Wozniacki safely navigated her way past Varvara Lepchenko. The Danish No.2 seed was second on Centre Court, just 48 hours after winning the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne. She had little trouble getting past the American, winning 6-0 6-3.

Karolina Pliskova had a battle on her hands to get past British hopeful Harriet Dart.

The Czech, who will be eyeing her maiden grand slam success at SW19, needed three sets, triumphing 7-6 (7/2) 2-6 6-1.

She said: "It was not the best, but I won. The end was happy.

"I think she played very good. I know she beat my sister last week in Eastbourne, so I was ready for a tough battle.

"I managed to find a little bit of my rhythm in the third set.

"Maybe if I play a little bit better in the beginning, it could be a little bit different."

Magdalena Rybarikova was the first seed to lose on day one, the 19th ranked player beaten 7-5 6-3 by Sorana Cirstea, while 22nd seed Anastasija Sevastova was ousted 6-1 2-6 6-4 by Camila Giorgi.

Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka came through in straight sets, 7-6 (7-4) 6-3, against Ekaterina Alexandrova while 2015 quarter-finalist Madison Keys eased past Ajla Tomljanovic 6-4 6-2 in 63 minutes.

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