MELBOURNE, Australia — As followers fished for autographs by tying cords round oversize tennis balls and dangling them over the rail for Serena Williams, her thoughts drifted to the opposite facet of the world.
“How wonderful!” Williams muttered, as a lot to herself as anybody else, whereas she scribbled her signature after her 6-1, 6-1 first-round victory towards Laura Siegemund on the Australian Open on Monday. “Are you able to think about successful the Tremendous Bowl at 43?”
Within the lead-up to this yr’s Open, Williams, 39, had repeatedly expressed her admiration for Tom Brady, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback who delivered his seventh Tremendous Bowl title on Sunday night time. His dedication and excellence have impressed her “since when he beat Kurt Warner,” she mentioned, referring to the New England Patriots’ victory over the St. Louis Rams within the Tremendous Bowl in February 2002.
Brady’s solely misstep, Williams joked final week, was his alternative of groups final yr as a free agent. “I imply, he simply ought to have come to the Dolphins, actually,” mentioned Williams, who owns a minority stake in Miami’s N.F.L. franchise alongside together with her sister Venus.
Williams sees in Brady a kindred spirit, somebody whose urge for food for competitors and want to succeed haven’t receded over time. “I take a look at Tom Brady, it’s so inspiring,” she mentioned.
Together with his newest title, his first outdoors New England, Brady delivered to a boil the long-simmering debate about sports activities’ biggest athlete. That dialogue should embody Williams, a 23-time main winner whose subsequent Grand Slam singles title will tie Margaret Court docket’s profession file.
And Williams often is the solely member of the greatest-ever debate to have received one in all her titles whereas pregnant. She delivered her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, by way of an emergency C-section on Sept. 1, 2017, practically seven months after she received the Australian Open. She mentioned they haven’t spent a day aside since.
“Is that wholesome?” Williams mentioned Monday. She laughed. “By no means. Not even shut. However each single day I simply wish to be round her.”
Williams’s option to be a doting father or mother, come hell or exhausting quarantine, could also be the place her path most clearly diverges from Brady’s. Two weeks earlier than the Tremendous Bowl, Brady was reportedly alone in his Tampa mansion, having despatched away his spouse and three youngsters so he may give his undivided consideration to soccer for the 12 days resulting in the large recreation.
Two weeks earlier than the Australian Open, Williams was ending a compulsory 14-day self-isolation, which required her to gap up in a lodge for 19 hours a day together with her husband, the tech entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, and their high-spirited daughter.
Williams acknowledged that Brady’s preparation made extra sense, however mentioned, “I wasn’t sturdy sufficient to do the banishment.”
She added: “I might not have been in a position to perform with out my 3-year-old round. Not even shut. I feel I might be in a despair.”
Elite athletes usually don’t do a lot of their downtime on the days or even weeks through which they’re competing, preserving their vitality for the bursts of effort their sports activities demand. For Williams, the accelerating and downshifting processes are compressed. She’s a drag racer, stepping into a flash from mama to megastar.
Considered one of her matches at a tuneup occasion final week at Melbourne Park ended simply after 8 p.m., leaving Williams caught in parenting territory just like the terra incognita between the service line and baseline. Olympia’s bedtime was 8:30. Ought to she rush again to tuck in her child or undergo her regular postmatch paces and make peace with not seeing her daughter till the morning?
Her intuition was to hurry residence. “However I’m just a little torn,” Williams mentioned in her postmatch information convention that day. “I’m like, perhaps I ought to simply let her go to mattress so she doesn’t get too moody.”
Williams added: “She’s too hyper. She wants her relaxation. She’s a busy child. She has a completely booked schedule.”
Like mom, like daughter. “She actually is,” Williams mentioned with a reflective sigh.
Earlier than one other of Williams’s matches final week, Ohanian walked to his seat. In his arms he carried a squirming Olympia, who pointed to Williams on the courtroom and mentioned, “Hey, that’s my mama!”
Williams mentioned her daughter is aware of that the courtroom is her workplace. However does she assume each working lady performs tennis? Williams isn’t positive. Typically when Olympia attends matches or apply periods, she’ll freak out Williams by mimicking everybody else and calling her Serena.
Williams mentioned: “I’m like: ‘You may’t say Serena. It’s a must to name me Mama.’”
Williams’s second-round opponent will likely be a 24-year-old Serb, Nina Stojanovic, who was youthful than Olympia when Serena received the primary of her 73 WTA Tour titles. Stojanovic would do nicely to tune out the participant introductions Wednesday because it requires a large chunk of the six-minute warm-up interval to recite Williams’s achievements.
“When the announcer mentioned on the courtroom, ‘23 Grand Slam titles, seven Australian Opens,’ he was like, ‘14 doubles titles,’ then he begins speaking about combined doubles, I’m like jeez,” Williams mentioned final week.
However none of what Williams has accomplished issues as a lot to her as what’s left to perform. When Brady mentioned earlier than the Tremendous Bowl that his favourite championship is his subsequent one, it resonated with Williams. “That will completely be my reply, for positive,” she mentioned.
“As a result of in any other case you’re residing off of what you already did,” she mentioned.
That mind-set is why Williams can conduct a tour of the trophy room in her home in Miami, as she lately did for Architectural Digest, and battle to establish which trophies are from which match.
It was why she is unbothered that one in all her seven Wimbledon trophies disappeared after a celebration she threw with Venus a number of years in the past. Or perhaps it was one in all Venus’s 5 that vanished. “Was that my Wimbledon trophy or was that her Wimbledon trophy?” Williams mentioned. “The argument remains to be happening.”
She added wryly, “Conversations within the Williams residence.”
Since her daughter’s delivery, Williams has appeared in 4 Grand Slam finals however has but to win one. Together with her subsequent Grand Slam title, she will be able to present all people, as Brady did Sunday in Tampa, that she nonetheless has the facility to amaze.
“You may’t say it was the system he was at previously,” Williams mentioned, referring to Brady’s six Tremendous Bowl titles below Coach Invoice Belichick in New England. However she is aware of higher. “It’s positively Tom Brady.”