Taylor Townsend had just upset the 19th seed at the U.S. Open, Beatriz Haddad Maia, 7-6 (1), 7-5, and said she was most proud of keeping her cool during the match.
That prompted a question: Had becoming a mother when her son, Adyn, was born two years ago, given her perspective and a more “even keel” on the court?
“No, it’s the exact opposite,” she said after that Wednesday match. “I think being a parent makes you want to pull your hair out.”
When the laughter subsided, Townsend added, “It’s basically to understand that most of the time, you want to be in control but you're not in control, so you can control what you can and what you can't you’ve got to let go.”
So it goes for the small but visible contingent of mothers on tour, including 10 in this year’s women’s singles draw, a group that battles both physical challenges and stereotypical gender assumptions about athletic life after giving birth.
Returning to the grind is a multi-faceted challenge. But some pull it off.
Townsend, an American, will face No. 10 seed Karolina Muchova in the third round on Friday. Another mother, wild-card entry Caroline Wozniacki, is set to meet American Jennifer Brady.
After two victories, Wozniacki is fast becoming one of the most intriguing stories of the tournament.
The former No. 1-ranked player and Australian Open champion retired after the 2020 Australian Open and later had two children with her husband, former Knick David Lee, the second arriving just last October.
Now here she is, having had only three matches prior to the Open to prepare.
History has shown it is not an easy path back to the top. Take it from someone who knows, Kim Clijsters, the only mother to win a tennis grand slam this century.
“Choosing to expand your family as a professional athlete or deciding when to retire is different for women compared to men; that's just a fact,” she wrote for Eurosport during last year’s Open.
“My body changed after two, three kids; it's just a fact. Roger Federer goes through becoming a father differently than his wife would.”
Clijsters won three major championships after the birth of her eldest child, Jada, including U.S. Opens in 2009 and ‘10.
She joined Margaret Court (three times in 1973) and Evonne Goolagong (at Wimbledon in 1980) as the only mothers to win majors in the Open era.
Serena Williams reached four finals after the birth of her first daughter and lost them all.
But women at this level did not get this far by shying from a challenge, and none has attracted more attention early in the tournament then Wozniacki.
She defeated No. 11 seed Petra Kvitkova, 7-5, 7-6 (5), Wednesday in a second-round match in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“Three years ago, if you'd asked me, I didn't think I was ever going to play on one of those courts again in the U.S. Open, especially a night session,” she said. “It just feels pretty incredible to be out there and winning a match like that.”
Wozniacki said the distraction of two small children helps her get through the long days that precede night matches, and she syncs her naps with theirs.
The Open has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of equal prize money for women, but some areas of tennis life remain unequal.
Parenthood naturally affects tennis-playing fathers’ lives, too, but traditionally less so than for mothers, for a variety of reasons. In that essay last year, Clijsters urged the women’s tour to provide better child-care services on the road.
Another touring mother, No. 26 seed Elina Svitolina, said after her first match that she had not seen her 10-month-old daughter, Skai, in a month.
“We decided for the sake of her health to leave her at home, unfortunately,” Svitolina, whose husband is Gael Monfils, said. “We miss her really much because this is like the last push now. It's been one month now that we didn't see her. We FaceTime every single day.”
Wozniacki has her children with her in New York.
“When I'm with the kids, I'm with the kids 100%,” she said after her first match. “When I'm zoned in on the match, I'm there 100%. I gave the kids a big kiss. I said, ‘Mommy's got to go work now.’
“Olivia [who is 2] asked if she could join. I said, ‘No, it's very late. You're going to be sleeping.’ She said, ‘OK, tomorrow we play tennis.’ So I guess that's what we're doing tomorrow morning.”
Life happens. Remember that historic 2009 Open victory by Clijsters? She won the final, 7-5, 6-3, against an up-and-coming 19-year-old: Caroline Wozniacki.