Serena battles past Pironkova in comeback match
Serena Williams made a winning return to action after nearly a year out with victory over Bulgaria's...
Serena Williams made a winning return to action after nearly a year out with victory over Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova at Eastbourne on Tuesday.
The 29-year-old American, out of action due to injury and health problems since winning last year's Wimbledon title, looked nervy and sluggish initially before settling down to win 1-6 6-3 6-4 and move into the second round.
It was far from pretty, but after claiming on Monday she had been on her "death bed" earlier this year, the 13-times grand slam champion would have been encouraged to beat an opponent who reached last year's Wimbledon semi-finals.
"She is an unbelievable player she beat Venus at Wimbledon last year and when I saw the draw I thought Oh my God," wildcard Williams, who suffered life-threatening blood clots in her lungs in February while recovering from gashing her foot last July, said in a courtside interview.
"I'm a little rusty but I enjoy being back on the grass. I will go inside now and see how I feel."
Dressed in pink and with purple streaks in her hair, Williams strode out on to a sunny centre court with little ceremony, took an age to unwrap her racket from its plastic cover before gingerly taking the first steps on the latest and most challenging comeback of her career.
With barely 20 minutes on the clock, however, she was 5-0 down as the American, playing at Eastbourne for the first time since 1998, slapped amateurish forehands into the net and looked leaden-footed. Her annoyance was clear for all to see as she cursed herself and cracked a racket frame.
There was even a slow hand clap as she took ages to replace the racket, hardly the welcome back she would have envisaged.
Gradually there were signs that she was beginning to rediscover her feel as she held serve at the start of the second set and forged a break ahead on her way to levelling the match.
Williams let out a loud "c'mon!" and clenched her fist as she broke again at the start of the decider with some forceful tennis and confident forays to the net.
Watched by sister Venus who made a successful return from a five-month injury break on Monday, Williams was yelling in frustration as she handed the break back with a netted backhand.
Another piercing screech from Williams accompanied the end of the next game as Pironkova looped a hurried forehand out.
Serving for the match at 5-4, Williams cracked down her seventh ace of the match but was sent sprawling to the turf after a superb baseline exchange to slip 15-30 behind.
She was then warned for slow play, received another slow-hand clap from the crowd, but wrapped up victory with an unreturnable backhand before raising her fist in salute.
Former world number one Ana Ivanovic of Serbia reached the second round with a 6-4 6-3 victory over Germany's Julia Goerges to set up a tussle with Venus Williams on Wednesday. Fourth seed Francesca Schiavone beat Kaia Kanepi 7-6 6-1.