1. So how far along was Serena when she won the Australian Open?
Today minus “20 weeks”—Williams’ Snapchat caption that I can envision taking on a life of its own as a hashtag or meme—puts us back to November 30. By that calculation, Serena was roughly eight weeks pregnant when she beat her sister Venus in the most all-Williams final of them all, to win her 23rd Grand Slam singles title.
[UPDATE: Since Serena's representative Kelly Bush Novak confirmed the pregnancy later in the day, and said she is due in the fall—about 20 weeks from now—we may have to rethink this estimate. Based on that information, we can hazard a guess and say that she was probably more like four to five weeks pregnant in Melbourne.]
2. Are Serena’s playing days over?
It’s been said that Serena’s greatest opponent is herself. An emotional player with unrivaled strength and tennis skills, Williams has often—but not always—been the primary source of her defeats. So it would make sense that it is of her own choosing, rather than a slip in the rankings or extended ennui, that she finally hangs up her gilded racquets. After all, Serena remains No. 2 in the world, despite playing just two tournaments in 2017, and will surpass Angelique Kerber for No. 1 on Monday, thanks to the WTA tour’s rolling ranking system.
It is too early to definitely say whether Serena will or will not play as a mother. But considering that she’ll be 36 after giving birth, and likely unable to return to action until 2018, logic suggests that she’s done. I don’t think that will be the case. Whether Serena would consider continuing to play as a “challenge,” or something she simply wants to do as a mother, it’s far easier for me to picture her playing again, rather than the alternative.
3. Have both Australian Open singles champions ever skipped the French Open in the same year?
I was pondering this trivia question once I realized that Roger Federer hasn’t given a firm commitment to Roland Garros, a tournament that fellow Aussie Open champ Serena definitely won’t be playing. Does anyone have the answer? Let me know below. Many big names skipped the French Open in the mid-'70s, during the advent of World TeamTennis, that I know.
At the very least, Serena’s absence on the terre battue—as well as Wimbledon’s verdant lawns and the U.S. Open’s blue hard courts—will provide greater Grand Slam opportunities for other players. Which leads me to the last question:
4. Who benefits most from Serena’s absence?
Five names immediately come to mind:
—Angelique Kerber. It’s been a difficult year for 2016’s top player, and not just because of her own struggles. It was also clear that Serena remains at the top of her game. Now, Kerber sits atop a roster of players she’s handled, for the most part, like a No. 1 should.
—Karolina Pliskova. She might not be the best WTA player without a major—that “honor” goes to Agneiszka Radwanska—but the world No. 3 seems the most likely to breakthrough and win her first. Pliskova has beaten Serena at a Slam before, but she won't mind seeing her on the sidelines.
—Garbine Muguruza. The Spaniard beat Serena to win her only major title last year; she lost to Serena in her first major final two years ago. Serena was one of the only players who hit the ball as hard as Muguruza. The 23-year-old now owns the tour’s most lethal game.
—Victoria Azarenka. This new mother will soon return to the tour, presumably with years of top-level play left in her. When Azarenka left the sport last year to have her first child, she had just won the Indian Wells and Miami double. Until proven otherwise, the 27-year-old is still one of the game’s top threats, and she’ll now have her biggest obstacle removed.
—Maria Sharapova. Well, look at that—just as Serena leaves, Maria returns. That’s good news for Sharapova, who has just two wins in their 21 career meetings. It will take Sharapova some time to round into form, but Williams’ absence from the game for the rest of the year—at a minimum—may be the best news the supremely motivated Russian could have received.