Another winning return by Serena the comeback queen
Serena Williams made a return to competition yesterday fitting of her reputation as the game's ultimate comeback queen. Nearly a year after playing her last match and just three months after coming off what she had described as her "death bed", Williams lost the first five games to Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova in the Aegon International at Eastbourne before recovering to complete a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.
The former world No 1 was playing her first match since winning Wimbledon last year, having recovered from two foot operations and a stay in hospital in March, when she had a haematoma removed from her stomach after a blood clot had travelled from a leg to her lungs. It was a patchy performance yesterday, but a major achievement in the circumstances. Pironkova, the world No 34, is a good performer on grass, having beaten Williams' sister, Venus, to reach the semi-finals at Wimbledon last year.
Williams admitted that she had been nervous. "It wasn't an easy match, but I think more than anything I wanted to win, and I think mentally I was there," she said. "I could have done a lot of things better, but that's OK. I think that's expected. Going forward I will continue to try to do the things that I need to do."
She added: "I definitely think that I had fun. It's always good to have fun, especially after everything I've been through. It's all fun to me now. This is really all a bonus."
Playing at Devonshire Park for the first time since 1998, Williams had looked sluggish and badly out of touch in the opening stages. Angry and frustrated, the 13-times Grand Slam champion smashed a racket, after which the crowd gave her a slow handclap as she took her time sorting out a replacement.
Williams (left), who has made successful comebacks after lengthy absences in the past, picked her game up from the start of the second set, although the effects of 11 months away from the game was evident in some of her erratic play. In the final game she slipped on the turf after a testing baseline exchange but afterwards reported no damage, not even of the cosmetic variety.
"It's definitely not cool on my nails if I fall, because I can potentially break one, and that makes me really upset," Williams said. "I have three weeks to get through without breaking a nail. It's definitely not good for me to fall at all."
The next round will see a rematch of last year's Wimbledon final as Williams takes on Russia's Vera Zvonareva, who beat Heather Watson, the British No 2, 6-3, 6-3. Zvonareva, the world No 3, was the highest ranked opponent that the 19-year-old from Guernsey has ever faced.
Elena Baltacha, the British No 1, who is back up to No 61 in the world rankings after her victory in Nottingham at the weekend, overpowered Aravane Rezai 6-2, 6-1. Baltacha now plays Victoria Azarenka, the world No 5.
In the men's tournament, two home players went out in the first round. Alex Slabinsky was beaten 7-5, 6-3 by South Africa's Kevin Anderson, while Dan Cox went down 6-1, 7-5 to the American qualifier Donald Young.
Petr Cech 'to ask' for Arsenal move to keep his family in London
England 'favourites' to host 2018 World Cup after Sepp Blatter resignation - Qatar and Russia under pressure
Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez saves female fan from police in amazing gesture
Sepp Blatter quits as Fifa president live: FBI investigating how Russia and Qatar were awarded World Cup tournaments
Brendan Rodgers' job safe for now but Liverpool owners plan for improvement
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 3 School kitchen manager 'fired from Colorado school for giving hungry students free lunches'
- 5 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers