Look who's back: Elusive Williams sisters reappear

Serena's decision to join Venus in next week's Eastbourne field is also excellent news for Wimbledon

The Lawn Tennis Association were so keen to promote tickets sales for next week's Aegon International at Eastbourne that they printed billboard posters and flyers featuring a doctored photograph of the Sussex town's seafront. Instead of pebbles on the beach the picture showed an expanse of golden sand, much to the disgust of local residents.

Organisers will hardly need to go to such lengths to sell the tournament now following yesterday's announcement that Serena Williams has been given a wild card and will join her sister Venus in the field.

It will be Serena's first appearance since she won Wimbledon last year. Within days of winning her fourth All England Club title, the 13-times Grand Slam champion cut her foot on a piece of glass in a restaurant in Munich, severing a tendon, and needed two operations to repair it.

Her recovery was put back even further three months ago when she was rushed to hospital to have a large haematoma removed from her stomach after a blood clot had travelled from a leg to her lungs. Sister Venus's recent physical problems – knee and hip injuries, which have seen her play only at the US and Australian Opens since last year's Wimbledon – appeared trifling in comparison.

Not only will next week be the first appearance at Eastbourne for 13 years by arguably the two most famous players in the women's game but it should also end the doubts as to whether the sisters will be playing at Wimbledon, which begins in 12 days' time.

Until yesterday many doubted whether Serena in particular would be returning to the All England Club. The fact that they are competing at Eastbourne is, moreover, a clear indication that they will be taking their returns seriously.

In recent years they have never played a warm-up tournament, preferring instead to train back home in the United States, but after such lengthy absences they clearly feel the need to get some matches under their belts before heading for Wimbledon.

"I am so excited to be healthy enough to compete again," Serena said in a statement announcing her return. "These past 12 months have been extremely tough and character-building. I have so much to be grateful for. I'm thankful to my family, friends and fans for all of their support. Serena's back!"

The bookmakers reacted by installing 29-year-old Serena as the second favourite to win Wimbledon behind Maria Sharapova, with 30-year-old Venus not far behind. If the odds seem remarkable considering the sisters' experiences in the last 12 months they are also a reflection of their extraordinary domination at the All England Club ever since Venus won her first Grand Slam title there 11 years ago.

Venus has won five Wimbledon titles and Serena four. Since the turn of the century there have been four all-Williams Wimbledon finals (in 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009), while the 2006 final (between Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin) is the only one in which neither of the sisters featured.

Serena has made a career out of coming back to win major titles after lengthy breaks, although this is the longest period she has been off the court since she turned professional. Between September 2005 and August 2006, when she had a knee injury, Serena played just once, losing in the third round of the Australian Open. In the build-up to the 2007 Australian Open she played only five tournaments in the space of 16 months – she was again troubled by a knee problem – but went on to win the Melbourne title despite being ranked No 81 in the world. It was her first tournament victory for two years. She looked a long way short of fitness but won in emphatic style, beating Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 in the final.

During their recent time off the court the sisters' world rankings have been slipping fast, with Serena now No 25 and Venus No 32. Their rankings are such that they will not be seeded at Eastbourne, meaning they could meet in the first round at Devonshire Park, where they may also play doubles together. Wimbledon does not have to follow the world rankings and looks certain to install the sisters among the top seeds.

Serena and Venus have been overcoming odds ever since their father set out to turn them into champions on public courts in Compton, Los Angeles, where their sister Yetunde was shot dead eight years ago. Nevertheless, the last 12 months have been the most difficult of Serena's career.

"Especially when I had that second surgery, I was definitely depressed," Serena said in a rare recent interview with USA Today. "I cried all the time. I was miserable to be around."

Williams told the newspaper that she had spent 10 weeks in a plaster cast and a similar period in a walking boot following the foot surgery, while she wore a tube and drainage bag for a week after her haematoma surgery. To take her mind off her problems she said she had become a karaoke addict, sometimes staying up all night singing in her Los Angeles home.

Serena is also prolific on Twitter, where some of her contributions are, to say the least, obscure. Three days ago, not long after tweeting that she was unable to sleep, she wrote: "I love hard. And I fall harder. My heart is foolish."

Despite her burgeoning interests outside the game, Serena said she intended to play tennis for a good while yet. "I feel as a brand I'm here to be around for a long time," she said in the interview. "I always think I'm going to play again and I'm going to be faster, I'm going to be better, I'm going to be smarter, wiser."

There is no doubt that the women's game has missed the sisters, especially Serena. While Venus has not won a Grand Slam title for three years (and has not won one away from Wimbledon since 2001), Serena had won six of the last 12 Grand Slam tournaments by the time she claimed her fourth Wimbledon crown last summer.

Serena has spent a total of 123 weeks at the top of the world rankings. Other recent world No 1s who have never won a Grand Slam title – Dinara Safina, Jelena Jankovic and the current incumbent, Caroline Wozniacki – have repeatedly been asked how they can justify their position when Serena is still on the scene.

While Serena's entry should be a huge boost for Eastbourne – which has such a high-quality field that Svetlana Kuznetsova, the world No 12, is not among the top eight seeds – her presence at Wimbledon should also provide a fillip for the sales of "Grand Slam! England", the latest addition to her collection of nail varnishes, which are produced by a firm called OPI.

"England's premier tennis tournament warrants colours with extra glitz and glamour," Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, OPI's artistic director, said in a press release to publicise Williams' latest product.

The description of Wimbledon might bring a smile, but there is no doubt that "England's premier tennis tournament" will be a more colourful place with Serena around.

Renaissance women: The off-court activities of the Williams sisters

Fashion Serena launched her fashion label Aneres in 2004, while Venus launched her own, EleVen, in 2007.

Books Serena's autobiography "My Life: Queen of the Court" was released in 2009, followed in 2010 by Venus's business-oriented "Come to Win".

TV The sisters produced and acted in a reality TV-show, Venus and Serena for Real. Serena has guest-starred on ER, My Wife and Kids and Street Time.

Business Venus is CEO of the design company V Starr Interiors; she is also pursuing a BA in Interior Design, while Serena is a certified nail technician.

Music Serena appeared in Common's music video "I Want You" in 2007, and may pursue a collaboration with DJ Clue.

Charity Venus is the founding ambassador of the WTA-UNESCO Gender Equality Programme. The sisters are also involved with Stop the Violence.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering