Awestruck tennis fans are backing Serena Williams to overhaul Margaret Court's all-time grand slam title haul in motherhood after stunning revelations that she won the Australian Open while pregnant.
Williams will take maternity leave for the rest of 2017 after the superstar's management confirmed she was expecting her first child in the northern hemisphere autumn.
The 23-time grand slam singles champion hinted at a pregnancy early on Thursday (AEST) when she posted a picture of herself in a yellow swimsuit, showing off a prominent bump, on the social media app Snapchat.
The post came with the caption "20 weeks", but was then deleted without explanation before official confirmation came several hours later.
"I'm happy to confirm Serena is expecting a baby this Fall," Los Angeles-based publicist Kelly Bush Novak said.
Legions of her 8.15 million Twitter followers flooded social media to express their amazement that the 35-year-old had managed to land a record seventh Australian Open crown in January while eight weeks pregnant.
Pointing out that Court, fellow Australian great Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Belgian Kim Clijsters had returned from child birth to win grand slam titles, Williams' fans insist she can too.
But age, not motherhood, appears Williams' biggest obstacle in her quest for sporting immortality.
Her management told Reuters the American planned on returning to the tour next year - months after Williams turns 36 in September.
At 35 and four months, Williams was already the oldest woman - by almost two years - to win a major when she reigned at Melbourne Park to eclipse Steffi Graf's open-era record of 22 grand slam singles crowns.
She's not the oldest grand slam champion ever, though, with Ken Rosewall winning the men's title in Australia in 1972 at age 37.
"We've seen some other mothers come back ... but will she have enough motivation when she sees that little one?" former world No.1 Tracy Austin said on the Tennis Channel.
"She's already done so much, does she need more?"
Williams announced her engagement to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in December and has not played on tour since her latest triumph in Melbourne.
Set to return to world No.1 on Monday, such has been her dominance when she does play, Williams pulled out of the recent events in Indian Wells and Miami citing a knee injury.
She was scheduled to return next month in Madrid ahead of the French Open starting on May 28.
Williams will be the second top player in less than a year to take time away from the tour to have a baby.
Former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka gave birth to her first child Leo on December 20 and is planning to return to the sport at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford at the end of July.
- with Reuters