Serena Williams is officially back.
Nearly a year after she limped off the court at Wimbledon due to a leg injury, Williams returned to competitive tennis on Tuesday at Eastbourne International. She and her doubles partner Ons Jabeur beat Sara Sorribes Tormo and Marie Bouzkova 2-6, 6-3, 13-11 in a match that lasted one hour and 33 minutes.
Williams and Jabeur have never played doubles with each other before, and you could see some of that in the early part of the match. They looked like they were having a hard time getting on the same page, and it’s also been quite a long time since Williams has played doubles. After a strong first game, the first set got out of hand quickly. Sorribes Tormo and Bouzkova ran them right over, winning five straight games before Williams and Jabeur could get their second win — which they did, partly due to a trademark Williams forehand smash.
Williams really got going in the second set. Despite a scary stumble onto the grass (which left everyone worried that she wouldn’t be able to get back up), she started to show flashes of her incredible power. Her serve tightened up and she got into a groove, and Jabeur’s light touch and excellent timing helped them start to dig themselves out of an early 3-2 hole.
Then Williams and Jabeur silenced Sorribes Tormo and Bouzkova for the rest of the set, winning four straight games to force a tiebreaker.
In the tiebreak, Williams and Jabeur got off to a strong start, but let Sorribes Tormo and Bouzkova catch up at 6-6. From there, it was a battle. Neither side could keep a lead, and both lost critical challenges. A ball struck by Williams/Jabeur was out by less than a centimeter, and Williams, Jabeur, and even the chair umpire had a quick laugh at how close it was to being in. The back and forth finally ended at 13-11 when Williams and Jabeur finally scored two points in a row, winning the tiebreaker and the match.
When play began, Williams seemed a little tentative. That’s understandable considering how long she’s been away, but it’s not a familiar sight. Williams has always seemed beyond nerves, arriving on the court with a steely gaze and a take-no-prisoners attitude. Her leg injury and lengthy absence sapped some of that swagger, but it’s definitely not gone. She’s building that back up now, and with Tuesday’s win under her belt, she’ll only get stronger.
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