Special to USA TODAY
Published 10:38 p.m. UTC Sep 2, 2018
NEW YORK — A day before the Labor Day holiday, Serena Williams, an inspiration for many fans, was a working mom hoping to earn a quarterfinal spot in the US Open draw.
Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, struggled Sunday, but fulfilled the goal of reaching the quarterfinal with a 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 win over Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.
The next step is taking on eighth seed Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, a finalist here in 2016. Pliskova outlasted 18th seed Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-4 in the fourth-round.
It’s been a year — Sept. 1, 2017, to be exact — since daughter Alexis Olympia came into Williams’ world. Since then she’s offered fans via the HBO special series "Being Serena" and social media a steady glimpse into her journey through the joys and struggles of balancing her life.
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From being pregnant, giving birth, overcoming post-delivery health issues, to ending her maternity leave and returning to work, it’s all out there for fans to follow.
“I feel like everything is just different in terms of I'm living a different life, I'm playing the US Open as a mom,” said Williams, just ahead of the start of the last major of the year, where she’s won six times. “It's just new and it's fresh.”
One fact Williams has discovered is despite the added responsibility of having a child, her desire to play is as strong as ever.
“If anything I have more fire in my belly,” she said. “It's very difficult to describe. I thought after having a child I would be more relaxed, but I'm not. I work just as hard, if not harder actually. That's been really surprising for me.”
A number of fans at the US Open Sunday — working moms just like Williams — weighed in on the message the tennis superstar is sending the world over.
Ashley Segrave, who works full-time for a data processing company in Atlanta, has four kids under seven, with three playing tennis.
“I think she’s representing women well because this is today,” said Segrave, on vacation in New York with the entire family in tow. “Women are doing this everywhere. I have four (kids) and I work as well. I think sometimes some people are giving her (Williams) a hard time about not coming back and winning right away, but they don’t realize what it does to your body. To come back at this high of a level so quickly is phenomenal.”
Barbara Lubin, a case worker for the City of New York, came to the Open with her nine-year-old son from their home in Brooklyn. She was a little less-oriented toward applauding Williams for doing what many moms normally do, whether out of necessity or desire.
“That’s her job,” Lubin said. “In an ordinary job somebody would do the same thing. I don’t think her sending a message makes a difference. Everybody says she’s a celebrity, but I think she’s a person before she’s a celebrity. People think because she’s a celebrity she’s different. You have to balance your everyday life with your home life no matter who you are.”
Cheryl Sams of Atlanta was making her second trip to the US Open with her 13-year-old daughter, Lauren, who plays junior tennis via the local park system. A computer programmer for a large retail chain and single mother, Sams' balances work with raising Lauren, who she adopted as a baby, and three foster children between 5-and-8-years-old.
“It’s an awesome message to never give up, pursue your goals,” Sams said. “When you know you’re the best, even after a temporary setback you can keep trying again, persevere and rise to the top again. From her past experience when she was the best, I think she still has that drive to keep proving that she’s the best.”
And it wasn’t just moms out there who believe Williams is worthy of being considered an ideal role model.
MaliVai Washington, the 1996 Wimbledon finalist who now works as a real estate developer and occasionally dabbles in broadcast analysis, would be happy if his 13-year-old daughter, Zeta, was inspired by Williams.
“My wife is a working mom and has never stopped working, and I think my wife is a great model for my daughter,” Washington said. “If there was someone outside of my family I would want my daughter to look at and say, ‘Hey I’d like to be like that,’ it would be Serena. What she’s been able to do over the course of her tennis career as a player, as a businesswoman, as a mother and as a wife, and to really be able to succeed at every level and somehow balance all that, I think is really impressive.”
Even Rafael Nadal, the men’s defending champion, offered a shout-out to Williams after his 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-4 fourth-round win over Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia.
“Is good to have somebody like her playing at this age, after being mother,” Nadal said. “I think well done for her, because that demonstrate the passion she have for the sport.”