Embracing motherhood took the 34-year-old athlete to the Wimbledon semifinals

Some like to argue that marriage, family and professional success do not go together. The performance of the German wife and mother of two at Wimbledon, tennis’ most prestigious Grand Slam, proved otherwise this week. Tatjana Maria, 34 and outside the top 100, had never advanced beyond the third round in 34 previous Grand Slam attempts. 34! This year, however, she made it all the way to the semi-finals.

Maria’s game is a family affair. Her entourage on the tour includes coach and husband Charles-Edouard Maria (himself a former player) and her daughters, eight-year-old Charlotte and 15-month-old Cecilia.

Tennis is important, but Maria prioritizes family. “That’s why it works so well that we work together,” Maria said. “We never fight about tennis because we both know that family is the most important thing. It will remain so forever.”

During her first maternity leave after the birth of Charlotte Maria, on the advice of her husband/coach, she switched from a two-handed backhand to a one-handed backhand. The transition, risky and challenging for an established player, changed her game significantly.

Maria’s style is unconventional, a departure from the tough “Big Babe Tennis” sometimes characterized as a “See-Ball-Hit-Ball” mentality. Think more of Martina Hingis than Serena Williams. Her game is based on guile and perfect movement, as well as slicing and spinning both wings. Her fluffy touch includes frequent putts, as well as great court feel, an innate anticipation of where her opponent’s ball will land.

In the fourth round, Maria saved two match points against a ferocious, hard-hitting Jelena Ostapenko to win the match 5-7, 7-5, 7-5.

The quarter-finals pitted her against a German powerhouse 12 years younger. While Jule Niemeier won the first set 6-4, Maria won the second and third sets with her unconventional style and great court movement.

Tatjana Maria was ranked as high as 46th in the world (2017). She is the oldest first-time semifinalist in the open era of tennis and only the sixth woman to reach a Grand Slam semifinal after her 34th birthday. The distinguished list includes Venus and Serena Williams, Martina Navratilová, Chris Evert and Billie Jean King.

When asked by an interviewer at the post-match press conference if she was comfortable being asked questions about being a mother on tour, Maria replied: “It’s the most important part of my life, being a mother. I like to talk about it.”

Players are beginning to understand the value of a strong support system behind the scenes that strengthens the mind and body. Some, like Iga Świątek, the current women’s number one, have hired sports psychologists or mental coaches in addition to traditional trainers and physios.

Tatjana Marie’s success shows that a strong family system on tour can also provide stability. Daily pre-match preparation at Wimbledon, for example, involved familiar family routines such as arriving on court each morning with her eldest daughter. There, Charlotte threw balls with the other children while mum’s training took place later in the day.

Despite losing to world number two Ons Jabeur in the semi-finals on Thursday, Tatjana Maria’s Wimbledon run represents a victory for traditional ideals of marriage and family.

“It’s a dream,” she said in her on-court interview after winning her quarterfinal match, “a dream to go through this with my family, with my two little girls. I mean, I just gave birth a year ago.”

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