Welcome Back, Serena! Williams Wins In Return
Published June 14, 2011 12:00
EASTBOURNE, England - Though she wasn't thrilled with her performance, for her first match in almost a year it was still pretty spectacular. Serena Williams made a winning return to the courts on Tuesday, beating Tsvetana Pironkova in her first round match of the AEGON International in Eastbourne, 16 63 64.
Williams, who had been sidelined from the WTA since winning Wimbledon last year due to a series of injury and health problems, lost the first set in just 28 minutes and faced two break points in her opening serve game in the second set; but she began building her comeback from there, holding onto her serve and breaking in the next game. She eventually took that second set and built a 4-2 lead in the third, never looking back for a resonant victory on Centre Court.
"It's great to be back," Williams said in her on-court interview. "Tsvetana is an excellent player - she beat Venus at Wimbledon last year, so I thought if I got through this match it would be very cool. I'm a little rusty but I really enjoy being here and being back on the grass. I'm still just taking it one day at a time."
Going into the final point of the match, the players were even on points for the day, 79-79 - but a huge serve followed by a backhand down the line blast drew one final error from Pironkova, who did indeed beat Venus Williams at SW19 last year to become the first Bulgarian to reach a Grand Slam semifinal.
"The first set was over really fast. I was just a little anxious and missing a tremendous amount of shots," Williams said in her press conference. "I was more anxious than nervous. Anxious is when you really want it so much, and nervous is when you're a little afraid. I wasn't afraid, I just really wanted it."
As if last year's Wimbledon semifinalist wasn't fitting enough, Williams' next challenger will be the player she beat in last year's Wimbledon final, Vera Zvonareva. Zvonareva, ranked No.3 in the world and the top seed here, beat British wildcard Heather Watson later in the day, 63 63, to set up the all-star clash. Zvonareva never lost her serve and broke the up-and-comer three times.
"I was a little bit inconsistent but I didn't expect my best tennis in the first match of the tournament and on a new surface," Zvonareva said. "Heather is a good up-and-coming player. She's a fighter and a great mover. She needs experience but she has very good potential. We'll be hearing a lot more about her."
"Vera's obviously an amazing player and last year she made the final of Wimbledon. I was nervous on the first point but I got over it and really enjoyed it today," Watson said. "A few blips of concentration hurt me in the match, but I've learnt a lot from it and I can't wait for Wimbledon next week. She was the highest-ranked player I've ever played and I felt I was really with her."
A day before, Zvonareva commented on the return of both Williams sisters in Eastbourne. "It's great to have those great champions back. They have done a lot for women's tennis and for women's sport in general. When one of them is on the other side of the net, you're playing against a great champion. You always enjoy matches with them. They bring excitement and attention to the game."