Serena Williams, left, watches the action with with husband Alexis Ohanian, top right, and their baby, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., during a match in the first round of Fed Cup tennis competition
Serena Williams, left, watches the action with with husband Alexis Ohanian, top right, and their baby, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., during a match in the first round of Fed Cup tennis competition

Serena Williams almost died giving birth

FORMER women's World No. 1 Serena Williams stunned the tennis circuit last year with another dominant win at the Australian Open, her seventh victory at Melbourne Park and her 23rd major overall.

Her trailblazing fortnight, which was completed without dropping a single set, was made even more iconic after the 36-year-old revealed she was playing while pregnant.

A well-earned hiatus from the sport followed for Williams to give birth to her daughter Olympia - but her moment of joy quickly turned south as startling health problems arose in the hospital.

Writing in a column for CNN.com, Williams detailed her tumultuous week following the "most amazing feeling I've ever experienced in my life".

"It began with a pulmonary embolism, which is a condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs becomes blocked by a blood clot. Because of my medical history with this problem, I live in fear of this situation. So, when I fell short of breath, I didn't wait a second to alert the nurses," she wrote.

"First my C-section wound popped open due to the intense coughing I endured as a result."

Williams said she was forced to "spend the first six weeks of motherhood in bed" as the complications spread.

"I returned to surgery, where the doctors found a large hematoma, a swelling of clotted blood, in my abdomen. And then I returned to the operating room for a procedure that prevents clots from travelling to my lungs," she wrote.

"I am so grateful I had access to such an incredible medical team of doctors and nurses at a hospital with state-of-the-art equipment. They knew exactly how to handle this complicated turn of events. If it weren't for their professional care, I wouldn't be here today."

Williams lost her first official match since maternity leave as she and sister Venus were beaten in a doubles dead rubber by the Netherlands in the Fed Cup.

Serena, who gave birth to her first child last September and had not played a competitive match since her triumph at the 2017 Australian Open, showed glimpses of her prowess and rust during the 6-2 6-3 loss to doubles specialist Demi Schuurs and world No. 165 Lesley Kerkhove.

Among those in the sellout crowd for the World Group tie was the 36-year-old's daughter.

"It's great. It's her first match so I'm glad she got to see it," Serena said in an on-court interview.

Early in the match Serena showed the effects of her lengthy lay-off, perhaps most noticeably when she shanked a routine volley that left her bent over in embarrassment.

But shortly after, the owner of an Open-era record 23 grand slam singles titles drew wild cheers when she confidently stepped to the net and stretched out to drive home a superb backhand volley.

Despite the loss, it was a positive step for Serena, who was bedridden for six weeks from a series of complications, including a pulmonary embolism that led to multiple surgeries, after her daughter was delivered by emergency caesarean section.

"I honestly feel better than I thought I was going to feel," she said. "I feel like I'm on the right track." Serena did play an exhibition match last December in Dubai, where she lost to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and shortly after decided against playing the Australian Open because of fitness concerns.

The doubles dead rubber had no impact on the best-of-five tie as it was played after Venus gave the US an insurmountable 3-0 lead that put the reigning champions into the April 21-22 semi-finals against France.

- with AAP



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