Williams vs. Rodina is matchup of Mom vs. Mom at Wimbledon

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LONDON (AP) When Serena Williams steps out on Centre Court to play Evgeniya Rodina in Wimbledon’s fourth round on Monday, it will be a rare meeting of Mom vs. Mom.

Such matchups could happen with greater frequency as parenthood becomes increasingly popular on the women’s tennis tour.

There were a half-dozen mothers in the singles main draw at the All England Club this year: 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams; another former No. 1 and two-time major champ, Victoria Azarenka; Rodina, Kateryna Bondarenko, Tatjana Maria and Vera Zvonareva.

Two more moms entered the doubles event, Mandy Minella and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. A ninth, Patty Schnyder, lost during qualifying for singles.

“At different points, we’ve had one or two mothers at a time. And then it’s grown to three or four mothers. And now we’ve seen that we have more, at present, than we’ve had in the past. There was Margaret Court. Evonne Goolagong. (Kim) Clijsters,” said Kathleen Stroia, WTA Senior VP for sport sciences and medicine, naming mothers who won Grand Slam titles.

“The difference,” she said, “is that now it’s certainly something that is becoming common.”

Williams is competing in her second major tournament since having a daughter, Olympia, last September. Motherhood is an important part of who she is now.

The 36-year-old American has spoken openly about a health scare during childbirth. About gaining weight while breast-feeding. About the joys of bringing her child onsite to a tournament for the first time. About the difficulty of dividing her time between family and forehands. About the precedent the All England Club set by seeding her 25th, based on past success that includes seven Wimbledon titles, even though she was ranked outside the top 150 after missing more than a full season, first while pregnant, then after giving birth.

“It will be really nice for these women to take a year off, and have the most amazing thing in the world,” Williams said, “then come back to their job and not have to start from the bottom, scrape, scrape, scrape.”

She tweeted over the weekend about missing the chance to see Olympia take her first steps, because it happened during a training session.

What working parent can’t relate to that?

Azarenka knows it can be difficult to reconcile parenthood and a career.

She skipped some tournaments, including last year’s U.S. Open, while working out a custody dispute with the father of her son, Leo.

“I really want to spend every second with him,” Azarenka said. “I feel guilty if I take 15 minutes for myself to stretch. I’m trying to run back to him and spend every second with him. So that’s the balance I think is the tough one.”

As a member of the WTA player council, Azarenka has been involved with discussions about how the tour can help the growing group of moms. Among the topics being looked at: the “protected ranking” policy, which allows players to enter a certain number of tournaments based on where they were ranked before taking time off because of an injury, illness or pregnancy; whether a similar rule should be established with regards to seeding.

One concern raised by some of the mothers in interviews during Wimbledon was that not enough tournaments offer childcare facilities, the way the four Grand Slams do.

While Maria was in action at the grass-court tournament, her 4-year-old daughter, Charlotte, spent her days at what the All England Club calls the competitors’ creche, essentially a nursery for children of players and coaches.

It opened in 1983, was refurbished in 2015, and has space for 15 or so kids.

“It’s like a regular kindergarten. They eat together. They do activities. We don’t have to look after her at all. Normally, we check on her at the other Grand Slams: `Are you hungry?’ or `Do you want to leave?'” Maria said. “But she wants to be there from 11 in the morning until 8 o’clock in the evening, every day. She loves it.”

Maria said her daughter often plays with the daughters of Rodina and Bondarenko. Zvonareva’s 2-year-old, Evelyn, spent time at the creche, too, while Mom played at Wimbledon for the first time since 2014.

Rodina, a 29-year-old qualifier from Russia with $1.7 million in career prize money, said that at other tournaments, she’ll sometimes leave her 5+-year-old daughter in the players’ lounge with an iPad to keep her occupied. That’s better than having the child in the stands during a match, which makes Rodina too nervous.

The WTA leaves it up to individual tournaments to decide whether to provide childcare. Some that do, according to the tour: Madrid, Stuttgart, Acapulco and St. Petersburg.

Asked whether the WTA might require or encourage tournaments to provide such services, Stroia said the tour will “evolve with the growing needs of the players,” but more has to be known about what is wanted by the athletes.

“I hope something will change,” Maria said. “You need some big names to help. If Serena comes and says, `I want to have a creche,’ maybe it’ll work.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Djokovic to start 2023 in Adelaide ahead of Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic will open his 2023 campaign in Adelaide as he prepares for a shot at a 10th Australian Open crown a year after having his visa revoked on the eve of his title defense.

The 21-time major winner has been granted a visa by the Australian government and has been listed to play at the Adelaide International, which starts Jan. 1.

Serbia isn’t contesting the inaugural United Cup team competition, leaving Djokovic free to play regular warmup tournaments head of the Jan. 16-29 Australian Open.

He’ll be joined in the men’s draw at Adelaide by Russians Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and Andy Murray.

Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka will headline the women’s draw.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles last month confirmed Djokovic had been granted a visa to compete in Australia in January. The 35-year-old Serbian had been facing a possible three-year ban after being deported last January over his stance against COVID-19 vaccination.

Djokovic has won the Australian Open a record nine times, including the last three times he played. Rafael Nadal won this year’s title in Djokovic’s absence.

Djokovic was not vaccinated against COVID-19 when he arrived in Melbourne ahead of the 2022 tournament, but Australia has since lifted strict rules for unvaccinated travelers.

Karolina Pliskova reuniting with Sascha Bajin

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Two-time Grand Slam finalist Karolina Pliskova is reuniting with coach Sascha Bajin ahead of the 2023 season.

Pliskova posted on her website and her Twitter account about the move, which comes about six months after she and Bajin stopped working together. The pair originally teamed up in November 2020.

While Bajin was her coach, Pliskova reached the final at Wimbledon in 2021 before losing to champion Ash Barty. Pliskova also was the runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open, where she defeated Serena Williams in the semifinals before being beat by Angelique Kerber for the trophy.

After splitting from Bajin in July, Pliskova was coached by Leos Friedl. Their results together included a quarterfinal run at the U.S. Open.

Bajin has worked as a coach or hitting partner with several top tennis players, including Grand Slam title winners Williams, Naomi Osaka, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki.

“Thank you for having me back,” Bajin wrote on Twitter. “Let’s go get it.”

Pliskova is a 30-year-old from the Czech Republic who reached No. 1 in the WTA rankings in 2017 and finished this season at No. 31 after going 21-21 with no titles.

Her team also includes fitness specialist Jez Green and physiotherapist Martin Salvador.

Next year’s first Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open, begins Jan. 16.