After an eight-month layoff due to a knee injury, Serena Williams' return to competitive tennis carries with it one overriding question: How committed is she to again becoming the top player on the women's tour?
I can't think of a past champion who didn't have tunnel vision when it came to tennis.
During her absence from the sport, Serena was involved with two of her other interests --fashion designing and acting.
This helped lead to speculation that she was no longer keenly interested in tennis.
Serena, however, says tennis remains her true love.
In the coming months, she'll have to prove that to those who question whether tennis is still her top priority and whether she has lost her hunger to succeed in the sport.
If Serena is interested in making a full comeback, her focus is going to have to center on tennis.
Nobody has tried to juggle being No. 1 in women's tennis with acting and designing.
If Serena wants to make tennis her No. 1 priority, she has the talent, ability and athleticism to again become the top-ranked player in the world.
But if she's vacillating between acting, designing and tennis -- which she says that she is not -- top opponents like Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne are going to be tough to beat because they are fully committed to the sport.
TIMES HAVE CHANGED
Doctors predicted Serena's return to tennis from an Aug. 1 knee operation would come around two months after the surgery, but instead it took eight months for the 22-year-old to make it back onto the WTA Tour.
Williams returned to the tour in March, but on April 15 she withdrew from the Family Circle Cup, citing soreness in her surgically repaired left knee.
Williams said the soreness was the result of practicing and playing too much.
The announcement came a day after Williams pulled out of the U.S. Fed Cup team's first-round match at Slovenia on the last weekend in April.
Once she does resume playing regularly, it will be important for Serena to quickly assert herself on the court.
If she doesn't, she runs the risk of losing at least a bit of the aura of invincibility and dominance that surrounds her presence and her game.
Without again establishing herself as an intimidating force in women's tennis, Serena could find that when opponents take the court against her, they will be thinking they have a shot at winning.
That would be in contrast to a year or two ago when players were thinking what an uphill battle it was to have to face the younger of the Williams' sisters.
Over the eight months of Serena's recovery, other top players, most notably Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, have taken their games up another notch.
Also, Lindsay Davenport has gotten healthy after missing time with an injury.
Serena is coming back to a circuit that's tougher than the one she left after being injured last summer.
ROAD BACK NOT AN EASY ONE
Serena and her older sister, Venus, have not played in a slew of tournaments over the last two seasons.
In the past, the Williams' sisters have been known to return to top form quicker than most players following a layoff.
This time around it may be different for Serena and for Venus, who is coming back from injuries that cost her most of last season.
No matter how much Serena practiced while sidelined, it's not the same as actually playing matches.
On many occasions following an injury, a player's game comes back first, and later that player's mental toughness returns.
It could be a while before Serena gets her mental toughness back and she feels comfortable playing critical points and dealing with the pressures of a match.
Serena delayed her comeback several times before Miami.
I'm sure the murder last September of her half-sister, Yetunde Price, overwhelmed Serena.
Price was shot in Compton, Calif., about a mile from the public courts on which Serena and Venus learned to play tennis.
Maybe being out of tennis and out of the public eye helped Serena start the healing process.
Maybe she needed some time since she was so close to her half-sister.
It would have been wrong for anyone to deny her that time.
THE CHALLENGE THAT AWAITS
Serena came back to tennis on her own timetable and maybe too soon judging by her withdrawing from the Family Circle Cup and the Fed Cup.
Women's tennis has missed her drawing power and the six-time Grand Slam singles champion comes off a long absence from the game to find Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters holding court as the two top players in the world.
Opinion is divided over whether Serena -- once fully healthy -- will make the commitment needed to challenge the two Belgians for supremacy in women's tennis.
Getting Serena to settle this debate will be fun to watch as the coming months in women's tennis should prove very interesting and exciting.
Watching Rafa Nadal churn his way through the claycourt season over the past few weeks, it seems nothing much has changed since his French Open triumph a year ago despite a lengthy injury layoff.
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