When she retired from tennis last month, the 41-year-old left behind a legacy that extends beyond 23 Grand Slam titles, most recently won at the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant with daughter Olympia.
She returned the following year and went on to compete in four Grand Slam finals – eschewing the idea that motherhood and a successful tennis career couldn’t go hand in hand.
According to Navratilova, Williams inspired a different mindset compared to when she dominated the sport in the 70s and 80s.
“For women it was either – or, but now Serena has proven that you can have both. Former world number 1 Elisabeth Perez, told CNN en Español:
“The biggest reason we didn’t see that – there is a couple – the care wasn’t there, the money wasn’t there, and the women just chose to have children and then didn’t come back.
“But now I think Serena has paved the way for motherhood and for being an athlete. I think you’ll see more and more women playing well in their 30s, maybe their 40s.”
Williams is not alone in paving the way for moms hoping to continue their tennis career.
earlier this year, Tatiana MariaA mother of two, she reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon 15 months after giving birth to her second child, while Victoria Azarenka has been ranked in the top 20 in the world since giving birth to her son Leo in 2016.
Navratilova, who holds the WTA record of 167 titles, has enjoyed a long career, during which she won 18 Grand Slam titles, 31 Grand Slam titles, and 10 Grand Slam doubles.
After retiring from singles in 1994 at the age of 38, she continued to play doubles—and win titles—into her forties.
She’s remained involved in the sport as a coach, broadcaster and ambassador for the WTA Tour, highlighting the importance of preventive screenings to combat certain diseases such as breast cancer – which Navratilova was diagnosed with in 2010.
After her retirement, she noticed that the sport was constantly evolving, especially when it came to the longevity of players.
Navratilova believes it will be more common for players to enjoy longer careers than in her day, according to the trend set by Williams and Roger Federerwho recently played the final of his career at the age of 41.
“With the money in tennis, people can take better care of themselves,” she says. “Most of all, with the knowledge we have on how to take better care of our bodies – it will extend the life of the players.
“Maybe (the players) will not play as much every year but play longer and with better quality too. The care is there, mental health, all of that is handled now much better than it was in my day.”
Navratilova adds that Williams’ retirement will leave a void in tennis – “the electricity she brought to the court was great,” she says – but she believes the future of the sport is in “good hands” with the world number one. Iga Swiatek.
The Polish star won her third Grand Slam title – and second this year – at the US Open in September, and at the age of 21 it looks like she will only add to her Grand Slam tally – particularly on her favorite clay surface.
“We can’t replace Roger Federer or Serena Williams, but we can bring in new faces that make us feel good about ourselves and keep us entertained with hope for decades to come,” Navratilova says.