At the age of 35, tennis superstar Serena Williams is 20 weeks pregnant.
The American’s announcement – initially via Snapchat – led to initial doubts about her tennis future, even if her publicist, Kelly Bush Novak, said she “looks forward to returning in 2018”.
But former world No.8 Alicia Molik, also captain of Australia’s Fed Cup team, and top tennis coach Roger Rasheed are convinced Williams will return – and dominate.
“This is awesome news for Serena and congratulations to her and her family,” Molik told The New Daily.
“She’s such a great champion and I’m sure she’ll come back with a vengeance.
“I have no doubt she still has a lot of tennis in her.”
Rasheed, who has coached the likes of Lleyton Hewitt, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and works as a tennis commentator for the Seven Network, said Williams can “absolutely” make it back to the top.
“Her ability to come back is unquestioned,” he told The New Daily.
“She’ll enjoy the journey of motherhood, and a little piece of her will be thinking about making a return.
“She’s a diligent trainer and her attention to detail is there … she has so many weapons, if she is in good condition and she has the passion to play, it’s matter of execution.”
Rasheed says the record 23-time grand slam winner is a “Rolls Royce” and a “unique tennis athlete”.
“She could play until she is close to 40 if the desire is there,” he added.
Rasheed hailed Williams’ effort in winning January’s Australian Open when she was two months pregnant, saying it showed her love of the game.
“We’re losing one of the most powerful brands in the game for a while, but Maria Sharapova is about to return (from a drugs suspension),” he said.
“The women’s game needs the wow factor those sort of players bring.”
Williams would not be the first woman to return to top-level tennis after giving birth, but she would be by far the oldest.
Belgian right-hander Kim Clijsters retired to give birth to daughter Jada before returning at age 26. She then won three grand slam titles as a mother.
Australians Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Margaret Court also won grand slam titles after having children.
Former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka, 27, missed much of the 2016 tennis season to have a baby but is expected to return to the tour later this year.
Williams overtook Steffi Graf for the most grand slam singles championships of the Open Era with her victory over older sister Venus Williams in January’s Australian Open final.
She hasn’t played since, with a knee injury being blamed.
Rasheed said her absence offers “opportunity in capital letters” for other star players to win a grand slam event. However, Williams’ rivals need to make haste.
“Kim Clijsters came back and won a grand slam after giving birth. Serena can do the same thing,” he said.