Who is the real 2018 NASCAR Cup series title favourite?

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Serena Williams faces fellow mum Evgeniya Rodina in Wimbledon last 16

Evgeniya Rodina and Serena Williams will compete for a Wimbledon quarter-final place
Wimbledon 2018 on the BBC
Venue: All England Club, Wimbledon Dates: 2-15 July
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button, Connected TVs and the BBC Sport website and app; Live Radio 5 live and 5 live sports extra commentary; Text commentary online.

They are worlds apart in terms of titles and profile but 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and qualifier Evgeniya Rodina, who meet in the Wimbledon fourth round on Monday, have one big thing in common.

Both are mothers – Williams’ daughter Olympia is just 10 months old, Rodina’s little girl Anna is five and a half years old.

And the number of women who have returned to the professional game after taking time out to have children is still small enough that the presence of two mums at this stage of a Grand Slam remains a relative novelty.

Rodina, whose surname means ‘motherland’ in her native Russian, is enjoying her best ever Grand Slam performance, having never previously got beyond the second round.

Williams, meanwhile, is chasing an eighth Wimbledon singles title and with just one of the top 10 women’s seeds left in the draw she is becoming a lot of people’s favourite to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish.

The 36-year-old American’s return to tennis has been to great fanfare – she has been the subject of a documentary, her daughter already has her own Instagram account and Williams’ every match has been scrutinised for signs that she can return to her best form.

Rodina, 29, meanwhile, has a two-and-a-half-line personal biography on the WTA website, which says she likes swimming, listening to music and reading Dostoevsky.

Williams’ form looks ominous for rivals

Serena Williams did not serve for three weeks after the French Open to rest an injury

It would be an incredible comeback for Williams to win the Wimbledon title just 10 months after giving birth, a difficult delivery during which, she has said, she “almost died”.

“It’s amazing for me to be out here. A year ago I was still pregnant,” said Williams, who won the 2017 Australian Open while around eight weeks pregnant. “Then my delivery took a turn south fast, so that wasn’t fun.

“But it’s that that makes me appreciate that I’m out here, that I’m alive, that I’m able to be here and do well and to play well.”

She returned to competitive singles in March and reached the last 16 at French Open but withdrew from her scheduled match against Maria Sharapova with a pectoral muscle injury that affected her serving.

She did not practise any serves from then until she arrived at the All England Club but she has still delivered the second fastest serve of the women’s tournament so far at 119mph, second only to her sister Venus’ 123mph.

It is not just her serves that have improved; her movement around the court is quicker than in her slightly laboured first-round victory over Arantxa Rus.

And in her third-round victory over Kristina Mladenovic she showed she still had the mental strength and desire to fight back when she won six games in a row from 5-3 down in the first set.

It all looks a little ominous for the rest of a women’s draw in which only Czech seventh seed Karolina Pliskova remains of the the top 10.

More mums on Tour

Williams is asked about her daughter and being a mum at every news conference, so rare is it for a woman at the very top of the game to take time out to have a baby.

Only three mothers have won Grand Slam titles in the Open era – Belgium’s Kim Clijsters and Australians Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Margaret Court.

Williams has backed Victoria Azarenka’s call for more childcare facilities at tournaments and hopes that Wimbledon’s decision to give her a seeding despite her world ranking of 181 will also help players if they want to start families younger.

“I think it will be nice to see ladies live their life and not start having families at my age,” she said.

“I think Wimbledon did such a good thing with the seeding. It will be really nice for these women to take a year off, and have the most amazing thing in the world, then come back to their job and not have to start from the bottom, scrape, scrape, scrape. Still give them an opportunity to be out there for bringing life into the world.”

Rodina had her daughter when she was 23, a year after she had reached a career-high ranking of 74. She then dropped outside the top 400 and has been working her way back up since – she has climbed back to 120 in the world.

Of the six mothers in the singles main draw at Wimbledon this year, Kateryna Bondarenko, Tatjana Maria, Vera Zvonareva and Azarenka are out. But with Williams facing Rodina, there will still be one there in the quarter-finals.

BBC Sport

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