PARIS – Serena Williams, absent from competitive tennis for nearly a year, said on Tuesday that she intends to return to Wimbledon, which begins on June 27.
Williams, 40, has not played on tour since withdrawing from a match in considerable pain with a right hamstring injury during the first round of Wimbledon last year against Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Sasnovich, a Belarusian, is one of the players banned by Wimbledon this year because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has been supported by Belarus. But Williams plans to return, and Wimbledon confirmed on Tuesday that she was receiving a wild card to play singles.
In preparation for Wimbledon, she intends to return to competition next week at the WTA event in Eastbourne, England, where she has received a wild card to play doubles with Ons Jabeur of Tunisia. The British Lawn Tennis Association said in a statement confirming the wild card that Williams and Jabeur were not expected to play their opening round match before June 21.
Rennae Stubbs, a coach and former player who is an ESPN tennis analyst, said Williams’ comeback was particularly noteworthy given her exit from Wimbledon last year, in which she limped off the court in tears. “I think it’s great to see her give herself one more chance to do something special,” Stubbs said.
Williams, clearly the leading women’s player of the 21st century, has not indicated whether this will be a farewell appearance or part of a farewell tour. But if she does indeed return to the All England Club, it will be her 21st appearance at Wimbledon, where she has won seven singles titles and seven doubles titles, six of the doubles titles with her older sister Venus Williams.
It is unclear whether Venus Williams, who will turn 42 on Friday, is also planning on returning to the tour. She has not competed since last August in Chicago and is not on the initial list of Wimbledon wild cards.
Because of the inactivity, both sisters’ rankings have dropped far from their usual zones. Venus Williams is No. 571. Serena Williams is No. 1,208, which explains why she required a wild card to gain entry to Wimbledon.
Williams’s brief Instagram post on Tuesday morning announcing her plan to play Wimbledon also offered some other clues. She tagged the Eastbourne International tournament, which later confirmed her participation. She also tagged members of her support team: Jarmere Jenkins, a hitting partner; Derick Pierson, a fitness trainer and Kristy Stahr, a physical therapist. She also tagged Eric Hechtman, who was coaching Venus Williams before her hiatus and is the tennis director at the Royal Palm Tennis Club in Miami. Hechtman is expected to coach Serena Williams during this comeback.
Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’ longtime coach, recently began working with Simona Halep, a former No. 1 and Wimbledon singles champion. Mouratoglou began coaching Williams as a consultant before Wimbledon in 2012, and she went on to win 10 of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles during their collaboration.
In a text message, Mouratoglou declined to comment on Williams on Tuesday.
Williams has not won a major title in more than five years. Her most recent victory was at the 2017 Australian Open when she was pregnant with her daughter, Olympia, who was born later that year.
Williams reached four Grand Slam finals after returning to the tour in 2018 but lost all four, including finals at Wimbledon in 2018 and 2019.
She remains one major short of Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, and despite Williams’ remarkable record at Wimbledon, she will be unseeded if she does indeed play at the All England Club.
Williams has competed sparingly over the last three seasons because of injuries and because of the coronavirus pandemic that led to Wimbledon’s cancellation in 2020.
“Hopefully she will be physically able to manage the load and the matches,” Stubbs said. “If she gets some wins under her belt, you never know.”
The landscape of women’s tennis has shifted dramatically since Williams limped off the court in anguish last year at Wimbledon just 34 minutes into the first set of her match with Sasnovich.
Ashleigh Barty went on to win the Wimbledon title and then reaffirmed herself as the No. 1 player by winning the Australian Open in January, only to retire unexpectedly in March at age 25. With Barty out, Iga Swiatek, just 21, has taken clear command of the women’s game, earning the No. 1 ranking and winning six consecutive tournaments, including the French Open earlier this month. Swiatek has a winning streak of 35 singles matches.
But grass remains, for now, Swiatek’s weakest surface, and she withdrew from this week’s grass-court tournament in Berlin, citing discomfort in one of her shoulders. Experience and big serving remain major advantages on grass. Williams has both despite her long absence from the tour.
“Tennis-wise it’s not going to be easy obviously, having not played a match since Wimbledon last year,” Stubbs said. “But grass definitely helps her, mainly because the points won’t be very long.”