A rusty Williams defeated fellow American Bernarda Pera 4-6 6-4 6-1 in the first round of the inaugural Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky.
Williams, the Open-era Grand Slam record holder, was struggling at 4-4 in the second set and 0-40 on her own serve, but she dug a hole and broke through the decisive.
“Honestly, I knew I was training really well and not getting a good pace here, and I kept thinking, ‘Serena, play like you train,'” Williams said in a post-game. interview. “So I knew I could play a little better if I just stood in there.”
Williams’ last game was in early February, when Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia handed the top-ranked former American back to her first Fed Cup team loss at home. A month later, the coronavirus pandemic ended all tennis competitions, including Wimbledon, which was canceled for the first time since World War II.
’50 face masks’
Unlike his last game before the pandemic, which took place in a noisy atmosphere in a crowded Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Wash., His game against Pera in Lexington was behind closed doors, with players touching rackets. instead of shaking hands. at the end of the game and strict biosecurity measures are in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“I’ve played through so many different generations and so many different things,” Williams told reporters at a press conference ahead of the Zoom tournament on Sunday.
“It’s something the whole world is going through. It’s not just us as tennis players or us as athletes, it’s literally the whole world going through this pandemic.
“Right now I think sport is one of the few things that can really provide a breath of fresh air or a sigh of relief to people who are still stuck in their homes.
While Williams enjoyed “every part of the long hiatus,” she said she also became “super, super safe” during the pandemic and “a bit of a recluse.”
The American, who has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolism, said she now travels with “like 50 face masks.”
On the pitch, it wasn’t business as usual for the 38-year-old either.
Watched from the stands by longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou, husband Alexis Ohanian and young daughter, Williams played a sloppy 2-2 game, dropping serve to love as 60th left-hander Pera l ‘ was attacking. hesitant forehand.
Serving for the opening set at 5-4, Pera established his first set point with a forehand and took the set by snatching another winner from the forehand on a smooth comeback.
In the second set, an excited Williams shouted her usual “Come on!” when she landed a break to lead 3-1. But again, Pera kept a cool head, snapping instantly.
With a 0-40 drop on his serve to 4-4, Williams was in real danger of going out, but fought back four break points with huge serve groundstrokes and lightning groundstrokes, then equalized the match taking the second set 6-4.
Momentum now firmly on her side, Williams quickly took a 5-1 lead in the deciding set against Pera, who was the first left-hander she faced in two years. Serving the win, Williams won the last game to love with a big forehand.
“I haven’t played for so long, even games and practice games that I haven’t played, I just trained,” said Williams. “It was really good for me … to win a three-set game.”
Venus next door
Although exhibitions have been held in the United States and Europe starting in June, the WTA tour officially resumed earlier this month. The Men’s ATP Tour will resume with the Western & Southern Open in New York on August 20.
The Lexington women’s event, the first in the United States since the start of the pandemic, was recently added as a warm-up tournament for the US Open, which is set to begin August 31 in New York City. The second major of the year will also be played without fans due to concerns over Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Williams, ranked ninth, will likely face an even greater challenge in her next round, where she plays her sister Venus Williams.
After Lexington, Williams will play the Western & Southern Open in New York City before attempting to equalize the all-time Grand Slam singles record of 24, held by Australian Margaret Court, by winning the US Open.
Williams last won a major at the 2017 Australian Open, while pregnant with her daughter, Olympia. Since returning from maternity leave, the American has lost four major singles finals, including Wimbledon and the US Open last year. She was eliminated in the third round of the Australian Open in January, the only major tournament in the sport played so far this year.