Johannesburg - Not many people reach half the level of success that Serena Williams has, but one of the greatest athletes in the world is riding a tough wave right now.
In sport, it is common knowledge that bouncing back to previous form after a long layoff is hard.
Williams won last year’s Australian Open while she was eight weeks pregnant with baby Alexis Olympia Ohanian. This was amazing by any standards, but it begs the question of whether she will return to her previous standard of play.
Last Sunday, the seven-time Wimbledon champion played her first competitive match since giving birth. She played alongside her sister Venus and the pair lost 6-2, 6-3 to Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands in the Fed Cup doubles competition.
Although the US team progressed to the next stage of the competition, Serena said she would have loved to earn that important first victory.
In December, three months after giving birth, the 36-year-old lost to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in an exhibition match in the United Arab Emirates.
“I don’t think I am going to rate my performance,” Williams was quoted as saying on Kwesé Sports after her loss.
“I have (made) plenty of comebacks after injuries and surgeries, but I’ve never had a comeback after actually giving birth to a human being. So, in my eyes, I feel it was a wonderful match for me.”
Belgian former professional tennis player Wim Fissette, who was Williams’ coach before she gave birth, said she would realise that being a mother is a better feeling than “all her Grand Slam wins put together, and she will enjoy the family life”.
He pointed out that science is at a point where one can be fit at 37 or 38 years old.
“If she has that goal to come back, she will be fine. But, personally, I don’t see her coming back. She’s achieved everything. She’s the best tennis player of all time.”
The 23-time Grand Slam champion missed the Australian Open last month to give herself more time to adjust to motherhood.
When asked if she would be at the French Open in May, she said she didn’t know.
“I have long-term goals, obviously. Right now, my main goal is just to stay in the moment,” she told the BBC last week.
“It goes unsaid that 25 (Grand Slams) are obviously something that I would love, but I’d hate to limit myself.”
Fans welcomed her comeback with a sold-out Memorial Stadium, but her performance showed that she is far from her peak.
Playing in the Fed Cup was relatively minor according to the standard she has set over her two-decade career. Williams said she chose the tournament because it was the perfect opportunity to try to reclaim her world number one spot.
One of the reasons Williams is regarded as one of the greatest tennis players in history is her fiercely competitive nature.
Before taking a break, Williams rarely played in minor tournaments. It should therefore be cause for concern that she now struggles to win against players ranked outside the top 100.
With time running out, fans of the former world champion are hoping for her return to winning ways.