Serena Williams spoke with Vogue recently and made some comments that hint at a forthcoming retirement. What Williams said certainly didn't explicitly reference any kind of plans, however, she did say that she won't play if her return after her maternity leave isn't successful. Chances are that Serena's return won't be all that successful when you keep in mind how different the tour will be at 2018 Australian Open compared to the 2017 tournament.

Serena's hint of retirement

The comments that Serena made were as follows: “In this game, you can go dark fast," she told Vogue.

If I lose, and I lose again, it’s like, she’s done. Especially since I’m not 20 years old. I’ll tell you this much: I won’t win less. Either I win, or I don’t play.”

The final statement indicates that she is not going to be one of the veterans that loses to lesser-talented players at the tail-end of her career. She did say that she plans to contest the 2018 Australian Open however. The former World No. 1 will be 36 years old when the first Grand Slam of the 2018 season is played. At that point, she will only be a few months post-pregnancy.

In January of this year when Serena won the Australian Open she did so in the very-early stages of her pregnancy. She also won the tournament at a time when several major players were on the sidelines.

Madison Keys was post surgery, Maria Sharapova was suspended, Victoria Azarenka was on maternity leave, and Petra Kvitova had recently been stabbed. Sharapova and Azarenka are both former champions at the Australian Open while Kvitova and Keys are dangerous in whatever events they enter. Some lesser bright lights in Sloane Stephens, Sabine Lisicki, and Catherine Bellis also missed the event.

The missing talent, for the various reasons, created a situation where the draw was so purged that the late rounds featured Coco Vandeweghe and 34-year old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

Serena may have won the tournament even if the Grand Slam from Melbourne Park was better contested. However, her draw at Melbourne Park was a late-career gift in 2017 and the tournament was quite possibly the worst-contested Grand Slam for women's singles in terms of talent in years.

What's important to note about 2018 is that the situation looks like it will be very different.

Who might beat Serena in 2018?

Firstly, both Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens are back playing well right now. Sharapova's suspension is over and Azarenka's maternity leave ended earlier this season. Kvitova hasn't found her very-best form following the terrible knife attack that she suffered in late 2016, but she may do so between now and January. Catherine Bellis is getting better month-by-month not to mention other top talents on tour, especially 22-year old Elina Svitolina.

Throw in a baby-faced assassin in Jelena Ostapenko, a player that was off the radar at the start of the season, and the 2018 Aussie kind of looks a lot different than the 2017 one.

Additionally, focusing on all of the players just mentioned focuses on non-Serena topics. Who knows how long it will take for her to get back to a proximity of her best tennis both at the age of 36 and post-pregnancy? None of this is meant to sound like criticism of Serena, although touchy fans of the American might read it that way.

The way it looks Serena's chances of winning on tour in 2018 will literally be at an all-time low after originally making the top 100 decades ago. Even when she was very young she was still a contender, having won her first major when she was 17.

If her comment "Either I win, or I don’t play" means that she won't take the route of players that were shown the door by younger players but will instead pre-emptively hang things up as soon as she spots trouble then expect Serena Williams to retire in 2018. Those that are looking at her result from Melbourne Park and seeing something grandiose really need to understand how soft the draw was at the Aussie, a draw where Serena didn't have to beat anyone better than Johanna Konta or an ancient Venus Williams.