Serena Williams' first match on tour in nearly a year ended in triumph for the former longtime World No.1.
Williams paired with Ons Jabeur to squeak out a first-round doubles victory at the Rothesay International on Tuesday, edging Marie Bouzkova and Sara Sorribes Tormo 2-6, 6-3, [13-11]. Williams and Jabeur saved a match point in the back-and-forth match-tiebreak.
"It was so fun to play with Ons," Williams said on court after the win. "It was great, we had a lot of fun, and our opponents played amazing! We were just trying to stay in there after the first set."
Said Jabeur: "It was so much fun. I was a little bit nervous before, playing with such a legend, but she made me really good on the court, and even when I made mistakes, she’d keep encouraging me."
Welcome back: The win marked a stirring return for Williams, who has an Open Era record of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, as well as 14 Grand Slam doubles titles. Williams had not played on tour since she got injured in her first-round singles match at Wimbledon last year.
But she and Jabeur received a wild card into this week's doubles draw, and Williams was able to come back to action with aplomb. It was Williams' first doubles match since she and now-retired Caroline Wozniacki made it to the Auckland doubles final in January of 2020.
Key moments: Bouzkova and Sorribes Tormo, who teamed up to win the Istanbul doubles title earlier this season, were the stronger pair in the opener. A Sorribes Tormo volley capped off a first set where she and Bouzkova's nine winners well outpaced Jabeur and Williams' four.
But Williams found her rhythm in the second set and she fired a bevy of winners to put her and Jabeur ahead 5-3. At 30-30 in that game, a Williams passing winner, followed by a scream of delight from the American, lined up set point, which Williams converted with an ace.
"I caught some fire behind me, so it was good, I needed that," Williams said on-court about the second-set surge.
In the match-tiebreak, Williams and Jabeur saw two match points at 9-8 and 10-9 disappear, and Bouzkova and Sorribes Tormo had their own match point at 11-10. But a Jabeur rally winner set up a third match point for the wildcards at 12-11, which they took after a wide volley by Sorribes Tormo.
After 1 hour and 33 minutes, Williams and Jabeur, playing their first event together, grabbed the win to line up a second-round clash against Shuko Aoyama and Chan Hao-ching.
"I'm literally taking it one day at a time," Williams said in the post-match press conference, when asked about her upcoming plans. "I really took my time with my hamstring injury so I'm just not making a ton of decisions after this.
"I definitely felt good out there and I was talking with Ons in the first set and I said, 'We're not playing bad, they really played really good in that set.' But obviously winning and getting more balls and playing a little bit more made us feel a lot better and it definitely felt reassuring, like, okay, it's clicking in practice and now it seems like it's clicking."
Burrage shocks Badosa
While Williams and Jabeur were winning on Centre Court, a homeland hope pulled off a stunner on Court 1. World No.169 Jodie Burrage of Great Britain swept past No.1 seed Paula Badosa of Spain 6-4, 6-3 to claim a spot in the singles Round of 16.
Wild card Burrage had played only one previous match against a Top 50 player, which she lost two weeks ago against Zhang Shuai in Nottingham. But the 23-year-old Brit eased past World No.4 Badosa in just 1 hour and 13 minutes to notch her first Top 10 win on Tuesday.
Burrage won 80 percent of her first-service points to maintain control of the encounter. The Brit converted four of her 13 break points while dropping serve only once all day.
Another stern test awaits Burrage, as she will now face No.15 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia in the third round. Haddad Maia is currently on an 11-match winning streak, having won back-to-back titles on the lawns of Nottingham and Birmingham.