Federer showed parenthood and titles can go together, now women following suit
There was a moment in the late Noughties when Roger Federer, so often the pied piper of tennis, shifted locker-room opinion on the notion of parenthood.
By running a military-style operation, staffed by multiple nannies, for his twin daughters, Charlene and Myla, born in 2009, Federer sparked a wave of procreation among his peers.
Admittedly, he was not the first man to jump. Tim Henman had sired three children by the time he retired in 2007.
But the characteristic ease with which Federer handled the whole circus made an influential statement.
As of today, every member of the world’s top four is a father, and Novak Djokovic’s wife, Jelena, is well on her way with their second child.
Could we be seeing the same pattern in the women’s game? Two grand-slam champions are missing from the tour as a result of pregnancies, although they are at very different stages.
Victoria Azarenka delivered her son Leo in December, and told the New York Times this week that she plans to return in July, just after Wimbledon.
Serena Williams, meanwhile, is only halfway through what the Victorians used to call her confinement. Not that this renaissance woman will ever allow herself to be cooped up.
Soon after January’s Australian Open, Williams visited Azarenka in California for a chat with an intriguing subtext.
“I know that Serena was asking me a lot of questions about babies when she came by my house, and I didn’t really make anything of that,” Azarenka said.
Yet, there is only one modern champion who can recount the experience of returning from a baby break – Kim Clijsters, who won three hard-court majors as a mother.
The difference is that Clijsters was not even thinking about a comeback when her daughter Jada was born in 2008. The motivation to play again did not resurface until the following year.
“I feel like I had time to be a mother,” Clijsters said.
“I was able to enjoy just being home with the baby and taking everything in, because it’s an emotional ride.
“No tennis trophy will compare to giving birth. Even after everything Serena has already done, I am really excited for her to experience motherhood, because it blows everything else away.”
So what advice would Clijsters give to her old rival?
“Everybody just has to find out their own balance. There’s weeks when it will be easier than other weeks.
“For me, there were weeks when I struggled and felt guilty, leaving the baby behind. But now, after three children, I am happy to leave for a few days!”
It seems unlikely that the top four women in the world will ever be mothers at the same time. But these athletes are already redefining what is possible.
After all, Williams won the Australian Open – without dropping a set – while eight weeks pregnant.
As the Tennis Podcast’s David Law put it, she and Federer seemed to be competing to see who could dominate world tennis more nonchalantly.
“Physically, it’s a lot of boring exercises to get yourself ready,” Clijsters said of her return to competition in 2009.
“Pregnancy has a big impact, but as long as your mindset is there, anything is possible.