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Women's Health

Serena Williams Gets Back in the Game

Tennis ace Serena Williams returns to the winner's circle after battling injuries, grief, and a dramatic slip in her pro ranking.
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Serena's Setbacks continued...

While Williams struggled with both personal and professional setbacks during these years, she never planned to bow out quietly. "I hated it," she tells WebMD, referring to the tough times, when some tennis fans wondered if her glory days were behind her. "But I had injuries, and I had to let myself recover."

Rick Macci, who trained both Williams sisters in 1991-1995 at his Florida-based tennis academy (as well as some of the sport's other biggest names, Sharapova included), adds this: "Knee injuries affect movement -- they are really tough for a player to overcome. Plus, whenever you have an injury that takes you off the court, it's mentally hard to come back. When Serena wants to be, she is one of the toughest players ever to play the game. But her mental state affects how she plays."

Macci believes that great players must have equal parts mental resolve and God-given talent. "Everybody thought Serena was ready to disappear. But she played Sharapova in Australia like she had nothing to lose. When Serena doesn't let the pressure get to her, she is the best player in the world."

Coping With Grief

Her physical challenges may have been only part of the catalyst for Williams' respite from the pro circuit in 2004-2005 and her struggle to get back in the game. In September 2003, her older sister Yetunde Price was shot and killed in Compton as she sat inside a friend's car. Her family was devastated. The murder made headlines around the world, and for the first time, the flamboyant tennis star may have felt the intrusive nature of her fame.

Williams, who claims to wear her celebrity status with ease and says that to "inspire young girls is my dream," admits that the prying press and sensational nature of the crime made her bereavement "a little more difficult, trying to deal with it all."

When asked if she needed a mental break as much as a physical one after Price's death, she answers quietly, "I think so ... yes."

This comes as no surprise to Kevin O'Brien, MA, EdD, a trauma therapist and the director of education and victims services at the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, D.C. "Violent crime touches every aspect of an individual -- the spiritual, the emotional, and the social," O'Brien says. "Socially, there is a need to withdraw. Emotionally, there is the need for support. And spiritually, there are tough questions like, 'How could something so bad happen to someone so good?' The fact that Serena is also a public figure, with the details of the murder given to the public, would have made coping with her loss that much harder."

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