World No. 1 Novak Djokovic will make a post-paternity return to tennis on Tuesday in Paris-Bercy. The Wimbledon champion welcomed son Stefan with wife Jelena on Thursday.
The city of Belgrade was equally amped.
The Serb opens against German Philipp Kohlschreiber at the BNP Paribas Masters. With Roger Federer hot on his heels for the No. 1 ranking, the new father finds himself doing double duty this week as the ATP season builds toward its World Tour Final finale.
Yet, Djokovic’s situation is hardly unique. Several of the last decade’s most memorable figures have been able to make their mark on the court while molding young minds at the same time. Read on for some of the most successful player-parents:
The former No. 2 became a father during an extended hiatus from the sport, recovering from right hip and shoulder injuries when wife Sara Foster gave birth to daughter Valentina. Spurred on by fatherhood, Haas made another comeback that saw him get within striking distance of the Top 10. With his daughter watching from the stands, the German upended No. 1 Djokovic in Miami en route to the semifinals in 2013, and reached his first-ever French Open quarterfinal a few months later. Through a career full of ups and downs, being a parent has undoubtedly introduced a much-needed source of stability.
The Federer family feels like it is constantly multiplying. When Federer and wife Mirka welcomed twins in 2009, the Swiss Maestro was in the midst of a career surge, having tied and broken Pete Sampras’ record for Grand Slam singles titles in a matter of weeks. Myla Rose and Charlene Riva have been regular fixtures on the Tour ever since, wearing matching dresses and looking well and truly over their father’s fame and fortune. Federer’s nuclear family was complete this past May with a second set of twins, boys named Leo and Lennart. Though the seventeen-time Grand Slam champion has only taken two major titles since becoming a father, he insists, “this is the best time of my life.” Electing to room with his family during tournaments, Federer has continued to balance playing and parenting. With the No. 1 ranking in sight, he seems to be doing a pretty good job.
Not that Myla or Charlene care:
Ernests Gulbis might not think so, but a woman can have it all – on and off the court. Belgium’s Kim Clijsters defied the impossible when she returned to the WTA Tour in 2009, a little over a year after giving birth to daughter Jada. Playing through a dream summer, the former No. 1 claimed her second US Open title as an unranked wildcard three weeks into her comeback – defeating both Williams sisters along the way.
Clijsters repeated the feat a year later, though Jada was admittedly less impressed.
With its lengthy physical demands, motherhood is unquestionably more challenging. But Clijsters made a tremendous statement with her career’s second chapter – winning three majors and returning to No. 1 – and proved that motherhood can make a player better than ever.
Though less celebrated than her parenting peers, the left-handed Austrian was no less impressive. Giving birth to daughter Tina in 2001, Bammer had yet to even crack the Top 200. It would take six more years, but she would do that and more, eventually achieving a career high of No. 19 in 2007. A year later, the Austrian reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, upsetting Marion Bartoli in a whacky three-set affair in Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Her greatest achievement, however, came against the game’s very best. Bammer retired in 2011 with the distinct honor of having beaten No. 1 Serena Williams twice in two meetings. She is among the only players to even have a winning record against the illustrious American, first taking her down in early 2007, and again two years later in Cincinnati.
Even greater? Bammer got to share each and every accolade with her daughter.