An awful lot has happened in tennis since the current world No1281 last hit a tennis ball in anger.
When Serena Williams limped out of Wimbledon’s first round last year most people had not, for instance, even heard of the 18-year-old Emma Raducanu, who would go on to win the US Open.
A spate of huge events has taken place in the sport since those six games Williams managed on the Center Court last year before retiring.
Twenty-three time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams is now ranked World No 1281
A former Wimbledon doubles champion, Peng Shuai, disappeared in China; Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia; players from Russia and Belarus were banned from SW19; a three-time ex-champion, Boris Becker, was sent to jail.
All this and more has happened in the time between Williams’s last match and when she steps on to the courts at Eastbourne to play doubles this week.
Unusually, arguably the world’s greatest-ever female player has figured in none of the sport’s dramas, because in tennis terms she virtually vanished from view.
There have been plenty of sightings of her via social media and at various launches and ceremonies.
Probably the most high-profile was last year when Hollywood released King Richard — the slick and decidedly sympathetic film which told of how her father turned two of his daughters into superstars (Serena was exec producer).
Given that her Instagram activity barely mentioned tennis, and the fact that she did not put her name down on Wimbledon’s entry list, the widespread assumption was that she would not be coming back.
Williams’ last competitive appearance ahead of Eastbourne came at Wimbledon last season
That impression had been bolstered in April when, in a rare sporting development, her long-time coach Patrick Mouratoglou announced that he was moving on to work with 2019 champion Simona Halep. So naturally it caused quite a stir last Tuesday when she popped up to post a picture of her feet de ella in tennis shoes on a grass court.
Even in her fifth decade — she turns 41 in September — she is still molding events in her own life and getting others to dance to her tune.
The All England Club had planned to announce its wildcard list on Wednesday, but such was the interest in her that they were forced to bring forward the declaration of who would be getting privileged entries. Williams had registered her request for her several weeks previously, but her reveal of her took officials by surprise.
When you have won 23 Grand Slams it does earn you certain rights, and there remain no more recognizable performers in women’s sport.
As John McEnroe, who will be working the fortnight for the BBC, put it: ‘All around the world, certainly in America, she’s up there with Michael Jordan and the all-time great athlete icons.’
Like everyone else, McEnroe is curious about her motivations after achieving so much and having nothing to prove. It is a plausible theory that she would not wish to bow out from Center Court on the note of last year, when she hurt her left leg after slipping on the new grass.
Williams will partner Ons Jabeur of Tunisia
‘She may be thinking that I don’t need to do this any more. For a while, no one saw her really.
‘To see what happened last year, you sort of hate to see someone like Serena go out like that,’ reflects McEnroe. This may well be her final of her Wimbledon, but providing her with her body holds up through this summer it seems unlikely to be her with her last tournament as she also has her eyes on the US Open.
Both of these enormous events offer a high profile platform, and while she has shown little interest in tennis these past 12 months she has been keen to maintain her visibility in the public eye.
The traditional tennis venue of Eastbourne is of a different category, and she has opted to find her feet in the less arduous arena of doubles, with Tunisia’s groundbreaking top-10 player Ons Jabeur as her partner.
Jabeur was delighted to get the royal summons: ‘I’m pretty excited to play doubles with Serena. When I got the news, I was over the moon, and it is such a privilege for me,’ she said.
Nobody will relish playing Williams at Wimbledon and in physical terms it will help that she has a day off between matches.
Her serve, perhaps the greatest shot ever in the women’s game, will stand her in good stead, especially on grass.
It is, however, a lot to expect for her to make a deep run.
The fact remains that she has been stuck on 23 Slam titles — one behind the mark of Margaret Court — since the 2017 Australian Open.
She has lost the four Major finals reached since then, suggesting she is a less intimidating figure to the top players. Yet in a year when Wimbledon is missing some top names, when ranking points have been taken away, she is a welcome late addition to the field and there is unlikely to be a dull moment.