Comeback queen Serena finishes in the pink following an off-colour start to slimline return

The Williams sisters are back. Not back to their best just yet but maybe not that very far away from it. Anyone who made the mistake of writing off Serena at the 2007 Australian Open when, out of condition and overweight, she lumbered through early rounds before springing to life will be loathe to repeat the mistake.

Perhaps the bookies were right after all, but could she really go from her deathbed to a Wimbledon title in the space of three months? Don't bet against her doing so.

It would interesting to know, though, what her odds were after losing the first set of her opening match against Tsvetana Pironkova, of Bulgaria, 6-1 in the Aegon International here yesterday. She should be grateful that tennis is not refereed like boxing otherwise Alison Lang, the umpire, might have been tempted to call a halt to proceedings there and then to save the American from further punishment.

In that opening set – which she will want to forget very quickly – she was slow, awkward and, dare one say, almost timid. Her first serve was practically unrecognisable. Since when did Serena regularly toss them in at speeds in double figures? That was partly due to the fact that she was obliged to go for accuracy at the expense of power after a few mistakes.

It was her movement that was giving most cause for concern then. At her best, she is an intimidating figure even when she is not taking a mighty swipe at the ball. She seemed to be holding back, perhaps, in fear of a fall. The pulmonary embolism she suffered is hopefully a thing of the past but a heavy fall would have been the last thing she needed. Fortunately for her the Centre Court at Devonshire Park was nothing like as slippery as it had been the day before for her sister Venus on her winning comeback from injury.

While accepting that her movement wasn't good - "I was really focused just trying to get my feet to move, which was a task on itself" – typically, she offered an alternative reason for not wanting to fall down. "Look, I always try not to fall down," she explained. "It's definitely not cool on my nails if I fall, because I can potentially break one, and that makes me really upset."

The crowd were ready to welcome back the old Serena and indeed it seemed just like that as she kept her opponent waiting at the net for a couple of minutes while she removed her tracksuit bottom to reveal a dark pink little number. It was, she said, her French Open dress, which she said, was inspired by "God, I can't remember the French lady. Some famous actress I can't remember".

Brigitte Bardot would probably have joined in the warm applause that greeted her as she set foot in a competitive environment for the first time in 12 months; no one is ever enthusiastically applauded at Devonshire Park. But as game after game went against her the mood of the crowd became steadily more morose. "Well, she has been away a long time," one spectator nearby whispered by way of excuse and it was probably the general consensus. They even slow hand-clapped when she went for a change of racket at 4-0 down in the first set.

What was encouraging for the real Serena fans was her shape. Compared to the Serena of '07 she was positively slimline. Cruelly teased about her weight then, she memorably answered her critics with the comment: "I know I have a big fat butt and big fat boobs and there's nothing I can do about it. Generally guys like butts and boobs, so it's not an issue for me."

Her first ace, which was all of 94 mph (she hits 125 mph plus at most Wimbledons) drew a decent round of applause and an even bigger one after 24 minutes when the zero against her name on the scoreboard was finally changed. Her forehand remained a bit of an issue, particularly on her service return, but the rest of her game picked up dramatically and it wasn't long before Serena was back on the winning trail, coming home 6-3, 6-4 after losing that first set. It was an encouraging victory, perhaps not as encouraging as Venus's on Monday but a good one all the same. Pironkova made the semi-finals at Wimbeldon last year, beating Venus in the quarters, so she's no fool on grass although she has not been playing too cleverly of late. Next up is Vera Zvonareva, who coincidentally she beat handily enough the last time she stepped onto the court in the Wimbledon final a year ago.

The only blot in her copybook, other than the opening set, was the time violation she received in the final game, about which she harangued the umpire both during and at the end of the match. "I just asked her if she could, next time, either say something or is that normal procedure or had I been gone so long that they changed it?"

Welcome back Serena.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album