How a pedicure left Serena on her 'death bed' wondering, 'Why me?'

An introspective Williams – who returns to action today – talks about the sliced foot that nearly ended her career

No wonder Serena Williams was all smiles down by the seaside here yesterday. When you have come as close as she did to losing her life, never mind her career, you tend to be grateful just to be back. The old cliché about taking one match at a time was never more apt in her case. As she said, "I'm not preparing for today or Wimbledon, I'm preparing for the rest of my career."

The bookies may have installed her as favourite for the All England Club showpiece event in a week's time, but for once in her life Serena is playing it low key. This is nothing like even her outrageous comeback of 2007 when overweight and out of touch she came back from four months' inactivity to win the Australian Open. Given she was on her "death bed" just three months ago, winning Wimbledon for a fifth time would surely be the comeback to end all comebacks.

It was almost a year ago that she stepped on broken glass in a German restaurant, causing an injury which led to a blood clot that travelled from her foot to her lung. And she blames it all on a pedicure.

"I was at this restaurant-bar kind of thing and I was with my nephew and hitting partner," she said. "We were leaving, and I was walking, and then I felt something. I was like, 'Guys, be careful. I think there's glass on the floor.' I'm just thinking, 'OK, I'm tough, I'm just gonna keep walking.' I took another step and then my coach, he looked down, and there's this massive puddle of blood. I ended up fainting because I lost so much blood and because I was standing up. I ended up having to get stitches in both feet. One was on top and one was on the bottom of my other foot. I guess it sliced right through my ligament. I didn't know at the time that my ligament was torn... I was this close to wearing boots, and I [had] got a pedicure and I thought, 'Man, I don't want to mess up my toes.' Go figure."

It led to two successive surgeries, the second of which caused her to miss the Australian Open, before a pulmonary embolism was diagnosed, although only after her physiotherapist bullied her into missing the Oscars party in Los Angeles in March. "She's like, 'No, you need to go to the hospital.' Glad I didn't go to that party.

"They said I had several blood clots bilaterally, so in both lungs. A lot of people die from that because you don't recognise it. Me being an athlete, I couldn't breathe. I just thought I was out of shape. So I thought I needed to get on the treadmill or something, hit the elliptical. They said it could have gotten a lot more serious a day or two later. It could have possibly been career-ending, but for the grace of God I got there in time and I was able to recover from it."

It almost goes without saying that she has returned to the game a touch more introspective, a little more humble. "I laid on the couch for a couple of days," she said. "Just so much stuff happened to me and I just couldn't understand why. I kept trying to figure out what I could do different or what – not necessarily what I did wrong, just what didn't I do or what did I do to deserve this."

Now she is ready to move on with her life and career, starting with today's first-round match at the Aegon International against Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova. As ever, she has big sister Venus alongside to offer encouragement. She will have been particularly encouraged by Venus's performance yesterday on her own return after five months out with a hip injury. After scraping away the rust, which included a pair of successive double faults, she managed to beat the world No 11 Andrea Petkovic, of Germany, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3. No doubt Serena would have heartily concurred with her sister's view when asked if she was nervous. "No, not really," Venus replied. "I just didn't want to get hurt."

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