Serena Williams made the perfect start to her latest tennis comeback with a straight-sets win over Zarina Diyas in the first round at Indian Wells on Thursday night.
Playing in her first official singles match since her victory at Australian Open 2017 and subsequent motherhood, Williams beat the Kazakh 7-5 6-3 to set up a second-round meeting with Kiki Bertens.
“It was incredible. It’s been over a year, and a kid later, and I get to go home now to [my daughter], so I’m excited about that,” Williams said on court after the 92-minute victory.
“It definitely wasn’t easy. I’ve played her several times before – we always have a couple of tight sets. But it was good.
“I’m a little rusty. But it doesn’t matter – I’m just out here on this journey and doing the best I can.”
Welcome back, @SerenaWilliams!
The 23-time Grand Slam champion marks her return with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Diyas at @BNPPARIBASOPEN! pic.twitter.com/BEJrOUkSrP
— WTA (@WTA) March 9, 2018
There was another victory for a returning former champion as Victoria Azarenka, playing for the first time since Wimbledon, beat Heather Watson 6-4 6-4.
In the first match of the evening session, Williams played relatively clean, controlled tennis from the outset considering her lengthy absence.
She reached 0-40 in the fifth game but couldn’t convert what would end up being four break points, yet in the 11th game, a powerful backhand down the line did the trick, drawing an error from Diyas and giving Williams a 6-5 lead.
The American comfortably served out the set in the next game.
> INDIAN WELLS: Serena could face Venus in round three
Williams suffered a dip in form and concentration early in the second. Up a break, she double faulted and then sprayed a backhand to hand it back, and then watched as Diyas moved ahead 40-0 in game five.
But the dip was brief. Serena snapped herself back into action with a scorching service-return winner and reeled Diyas in, breaking the world No.53 for a 3-2 lead.
The two women went break for break until Williams held for 5-3, and from 30-0 down the American rattled off four straight points to claim victory.
“Right now, for this particular tournament, I’m really just trying to take it easy and not put too much stress or pressure or expectation on myself,” Williams added.
“And this is really one of the few times when I’ve been able to do that.
“I went in knowing I’m not going to be where I want to be in the first few matches. It takes time to get back.”
27 unforced errors
+7 W/UFE differential.
Final stats for @serenawilliams @BNPPARIBASOPEN. https://t.co/RJwIhAxTNs pic.twitter.com/DfnNp1Cnip
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) March 9, 2018
Perhaps fittingly, the sport’s highest-profile working mother sealed the win on International Women’s Day, a fact that drew big cheers from the large crowd on Stadium 1.
“To all the ladies out there, happy International Women’s Day. I’m so excited to play on this night,” Williams enthused.
“It was meant to be, I think.”
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