Serena Williams shows trademark intensity in first match back in nearly a year


The Eastbourne capability crowd was on its toes as Serena Williams made her entrance from the tunnel to Centre Court docket with “What a Feeling” from “Flashdance” blaring over the sound system. She gave a wry smile and a wave as all eyes have been locked on her each transfer.

By the point her first-round doubles match with Ons Jabeur in opposition to Sara Sorribes Tormo and Marie Bouzkova obtained underway , it appeared as if each mobile phone digital camera was pointed in her route as she served to open the match.

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Whereas that sort of reception was hardly a shock for arguably the best tennis participant of all time and a lady with 23 main titles to her identify, nobody knew what to anticipate from the 40-year-old Williams on the courtroom. She was enjoying in her first match in practically a yr, and he or she had skipped her follow session on web site on Monday.

However on Tuesday, Williams offered some solutions, and even quelled a lot of the doubt with an epic comeback victory, 2-6, 6-3, 13-11.

“I caught some fireplace behind me,” Williams mentioned on courtroom after the win concerning the second-set turnaround. “I wanted that.”

Williams confirmed indicators of rust early and her unfamiliarity with Jabeur confirmed. Sorribes Tormo and Bouzkova seized and rushed out to an early lead. Whereas there have been a number of moments of classic Serena greatness, together with a dominant overhead smash — met, in fact, by raucous applause — it regarded for a lot of the first set as if Williams and Jabeur’s eagerly anticipated run in Eastbourne can be a brief one.

However neither Williams, nor Jabeur have been able to go down and not using a battle. Williams’ motion obtained sharper, her ball-striking grew to become crisper and her confidence (and trademark depth) to surge with each received level. By the top of the second set, Williams was in all places on courtroom and operating down every ball as if the match relied on it.

Williams hadn’t performed doubles since Auckland in 2020, and final performed a aggressive match at Wimbledon in 2021. She had arrived on the All England Membership final summer season as a favourite however suffered a devastating hamstring tear within the opening set of her first match and was pressured to tearfully retire. Her once-brimming-with-promise run on the match and quest for her elusive twenty fourth Grand Slam title lasted simply 34 minutes.

She launched statements about her withdrawal forward of the US Open and the Australian Open, citing her well being. After which there was silence. The French Open got here and went, and he or she mentioned nothing about it. When the preliminary Wimbledon entry checklist was launched she was nowhere to be discovered. Hypothesis grew about impending retirement.

“If I ever say farewell, I would not inform anybody,” she had mentioned in Melbourne in 2021 and it appeared as if maybe that is precisely what occurred.

But it surely seems she wasn’t performed simply but. Final week, it was revealed she had obtained a wild card to play at Wimbledon and can be enjoying within the doubles draw at Eastbourne.

Williams handpicked Jabeur to be her companion — one thing Jabeur referred to as an “honor” and mentioned had been within the works since earlier than the French Open — and that felt prefer it may very well be a passing of a torch from one trailblazer to a different.

Jabeur, who rose to a career-high rating of No. 3 this week after profitable the title in Berlin, owns a slew of “firsts” for gamers from her residence nation of Tunisa, in addition to for Arab and African nations. Already the highest-ranked Arab participant of all time, she is now tied for highest-ranked African participant in historical past as effectively.

AP Photograph/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Whereas Williams’ time within the sport is not over, even she will be able to’t play eternally. However in a participant like Jabeur, who’s paving the way in which for thus many aspiring younger gamers, Williams’ inclusive legacy will reside on.

The pair have been seen smiling and laughing on courtroom, even throughout the tenser moments of the match. Each reacted to at least one one other’s shot-making prowess with expressive, meme-worthy facial expressions and have been seen high-fiving and giving supportive phrases after practically each level.

“It was a lot enjoyable,” Jabeur mentioned after the match. “I used to be slightly bit nervous earlier than, enjoying with such a legend, however she made me actually good on the courtroom. Even after I made errors she stored encouraging me, so thanks [Serena] for that.”

“After all,” Williams mentioned. “We obtained this.”

The duo will subsequent face Shuko Aoyama and Chan Hao-ching on Wednesday with a spot within the semifinals on the road. Regardless of their success and infectious giddiness after the victory, Williams was noncommittal when requested if she and Jabeur can be enjoying collectively at Wimbledon. She maybe summed up her total angle getting into the match along with her response:

“A day at a time,” she mentioned. “A day at a time.”

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