Motherhood is not stopping today's breed of female athletes. It is an inspiration for all women
In men’s tennis, discussions around who is the “Greatest Of All Time”, the so-called “GOAT”, can become very animated between supporters of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. In women’s tennis on the other hand, there is no competition. Serena Williams stands heads and shoulders above players from not only her generation but also the likes of Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova from years past. It would not be a stretch to say that Williams is one of the greatest sportspersons of all time with only the likes of Michael Phelps and Lionel Messi for competition. And keeping her competitive nature going even after becoming a mother is remarkable. Although the Belgian ace Justine Henin was the first “mother” to win a Grand Slam in the modern era, she did so at a time when for a female athlete, getting pregnant was a signal to retire. But now, Serena, Victoria Azarenka and Tsvetana Pironkova, all post-partum athletes, have marched into the next round of the US Open tennis tournament, the first major post-Covid tournament in that sport, proving that women, just like men, are extending the prime of their careers and even “post-prime” by being more selective about where and how often they play. Our own Sania Mirza won the Hobart doubles title after having a baby. And boxer Mary Kom set new records post-motherhood in a high-performance sport. Gone are the days when women’s tennis was about a succession of lissome teenage blondes from the erstwhile Soviet bloc nations. Today’s players are older, stronger and will not let marriage (or divorce) and motherhood stop their success.
But as discussed on these pages earlier, how will an increasing number of older athletes staying on in their sports, irrespective of gender and sport, from tennis to even cricket, impact up and coming stars. Of course, the best will still shine through but sports is reflecting the realities of modern life. Model Padma Lakshmi celebrated her 50th birthday recently by announcing that the 50s were the new 30s. This, however, should create opportunities for more leagues and more sports across the board. But we will also see more and more mothers competing in top-flight sports; no longer is having a baby considered the end of any career, whether in movies or in sports. And players like Serena Williams should be an inspiration not just to other mothers but women of all ages.