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Serena Williams wins 1st match of comeback after year away

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EASTBORN, England (AP) — As “What A Feeling” blared in Devonshire Park, Serena Williams took to Center Court in Eastbourne to applause for her first competitive tennis match in nearly a year.

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About 90 minutes later, fans were back on their feet, celebrating the return of the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion at the Wimbledon warm-up on the south coast of England.

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Williams, along with Ons Jabeur, defeated Sarah Sorribes Tormo and Marie Buzkova in the first round of the women’s doubles. Williams and Jabeur recovered from a 6-2 first set loss to win the second 6-3 and then a 13-11 match tiebreaker in their third match.

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“I caught fire in the back,” Williams, 40, said. – I needed it. It was good.”

The win means Williams will play at least one more competitive match before playing singles at Wimbledon as a wildcard contestant. All England main draw play begins on Monday.

It was at the Grass Slam where Williams was last seen competing in 2021. She was playing in the first round when she lost her balance and her right leg buckled, causing Williams to withdraw from the match.

As she has not competed since then, she is ranked 1204th in singles and was not among the seeded players announced by Wimbledon on Tuesday. Few will want to face her when the draw takes place on Friday.

Williams, with three black spots on her right cheek, slowly started the match alongside Jabeur, marking her third appearance at Eastbourne, having previously played singles in 1998 and 2011.

She served first – her first serve was timed at 90 mph (145 km/h) and scored the first point after Sorribes Tormo’s response dragged on – and held on to 30.

At times, Williams struggled in the first set and was furious after failing to get low enough to hit Sorribes Tormo. It took 25 minutes before Williams hit the winner as her shot flew over to the north stand, ensuring that one spectator could walk away with a memento.

Williams’ agility improved markedly in the second set, although the crowd sighed loudly as she slipped into the net.

She set a set point with a game-winning backhand from the baseline and took the match to a 102 mph ace tiebreak.

Williams showed a willingness to dive to the right to fire an unanswered volley that earned one in three match points. The victory was sealed when Sorribes Tormo missed a volley.

“It was so much fun playing with Ons,” Williams said in an on-court interview. “It was great. We had a lot of fun and our opponents were amazing. We were happy to stay there.”

In singles, there was a big shock when No. 1 Paula Badosa lost 6-4, 6-3 to Jody Burrage, a British wild card. Third seeded Maria Sakkari also dropped out, losing to Angelina Kalinina 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. Fourth-placed Karolina Pliskova, last year’s Wimbledon finalist, was defeated by Great Britain’s Cathy Boulter 1-6, 6-4, 6-4.

In the second round, the defending champions Elena Ostapenko and Beatriz Haddad Maia won, having won grass court competitions in Nottingham and Birmingham over the past two weeks in a row.


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