In the old days, it used to be that female tennis players retired when they had children – and some even bowed out early from their careers in order to do so.
But, times are changing and a string of high-profile players who are pregnant or new mums in the past year have catapulted the issue into the spotlight, sparking a shift in the status quo.
One of those is Wimbledon star Mandy Minella from Luxembourg, who revealed that she was four and a half months pregnant after her first-round defeat at the All England Club earlier this week.
Minella says she was “very surprised” to be bombarded with press attention in the wake of her announcement.
“It was definitely not my goal [to get so much attention],” Minella told Radio 4’s Today programme this morning. “But I got a lot of positive messages and I’m very happy – people have been very nice with me.”
Minella believes there is plenty of scope for players to compete while pregnant and return after having babies, if they wish to do so.
“I think that women are very strong, not only in tennis, but all over the world,” she says. “Some have very tough jobs and they keep going [when they’re pregnant]. It’s definitely possible to come back after pregnancy.”
The world number 82 says she is motivated by the example set by fellow mum-to-be Serena Williams.
The 23-time Grand Slam winner announced she was expecting her first child after winning the Australian Open earlier this year and recently posted footage of herself on Instagram practising at seven months pregnant (above).
“I’m definitely inspired by the whole career she has done – she’s just a great champion and I’m not surprised that she’s doing that well even when pregnant,” Minella says. “I know myself that in the beginning of the pregnancy, if you feel good you can still achieve a lot of things and do good results. I have a lot of respect for her.”
“Many women prove that they can come back [after pregnancy], and they can come back at the same level or even stronger than they were before,” she adds. “I’m 31 years old now and I feel in really good shape, so I would like to give it a chance to come back again and maybe do a few more results.”
The tennis pro said she expected more of her peers to follow suit and return to world tournaments after having babies: “I think we’re going to have more players [doing that] now because everyone’s getting a older, finishing their careers a little bit later”.
Earlier this week, Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka admitted that she had found it difficult to spend the whole day away from her six-month-old son Leo, as she waited for a court to become free at Wimbledon.
“I had to be here the whole day, which is, for a new mom, is a little tough,” the two-time Australian Open champion said, after defeating American CiCi Bellis in a match that lasted until 9pm. “Hopefully I won't play like this again.”
“The guys have the luxury to never stop their career and for girls it's tougher,” she added, of competing as a new mum. “One of my biggest inspirations was Kerri Walsh that came back after three kids and still playing for a gold medal. Nothing is impossible. For women, that's definitely true.”
Minella believes the bigger tournaments do “a great job” of supporting players who are parents with nurseries and creches; though she hasn’t had a chance to test them yet.
She thinks women could be further supported by smaller competitions also rolling out childcare facilities.
As for Wimbledon 2018, the player – whose baby is due at the end of the year – says she would “love to” play. Watch this space.
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