Serena Williams' Winning Return Raises Hopes Of Wimbledon Wildcard Run

The 23-time Grand Slam champion returned complete with face plasters at Eastbourne
11:12, 22 Jun 2022

Almost exactly a year after departing the Centre Court at Wimbledon in agony and tears after withdrawing with an ankle injury during her first-round match, the return of Serena Williams to tennis in the doubles at Eastbourne was a much happier affair.

The 40-year-old Williams, winner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles and arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport, will play at least once more at the Rothesay International on the south coast after coming through a last-16 match with world number three Ons Jabeur 2-6, 6-3, 13-11 against Marie Bouzkova and Sara Sorribes Tormo.

And as an exercise in rehabilitation and reassurance ahead of a trip to Wimbledon next week where as a wildcard whose ranking has fallen to number 1,204 after the long spell of inactivity, the American awaits to see a first-round opponent in Friday’s draw, this delivered almost the perfect set of outcomes. The win means there will be at least one more match, and the hitting became ever more ferocious as the contest wore on, as the volleys became crisper.


Seven-time Wimbledon singles champion Williams, who stands one short of Margaret Court's all-time slam titles total of 24, said: “It has been a while so it was good to feel the court, especially with Ons, and it really worked out. I am literally taking it one day at a time at the moment. I took my time with my hamstring injury and I am not making a ton of decisions at the moment after this about the future.

“Wimbledon is so different so I don’t know if this tonight changes my views on that. It really has to be taking it a day and a match at a time. I can’t answer the question about next year. I love tennis and playing, but I also love what I do off the court.

“Absolutely, there have been times over the past year when I wondered if I would play again, it would be dishonest to say that was not the case. But now my body feels great. This was doubles so I was only playing half the court. But I have been doing a lot of training and it feels good. I did a lot of ‘not training’ at the start and went cold turkey. But I always try to stay semi-fit.

“But it was job done tonight in terms of getting some reassurance. I felt good out there and I was talking to Ons in the first set. And I said ‘we are not playing bad’, they were just really good in the first set. Obviously winning and playing more made us feel a lot better and it definitely felt reassuring. It has been clicking in practice and now it seems like it’s clicking in a match. It is doubles, but it still means a lot to both of us.

“But oh my god, it was so fun to play with Ons. It was great – and our opponents played amazing. It was like just trying to stay in there after the first set, but it was good. I called Ons to do this, she has been playing so well and I knew I needed to play some matches. She has always been so sweet to me on tour so I thought it would be fun to play with her.”


The afternoon had begun for Williams at around 3pm in the furthest extremities of the Devonshire Park complex, way out on the Court 12 used mainly for practice during the Rothesay International.

Having opted to take Monday off and cancel a planned hit with her new hand-picked partner, this was the first time she and Tunisia’s Jabeur had met up on court since choosing to partner up – a decision that had been kept a closely guarded secret since before the French Open.

And in this normally deserted corner of the grounds a scrum of media, TV cameras, photographers and enthused fans gathered to see the tennis icon go through her fitness warm-up paces before heading out onto the surface that has brought her so much joy and success – as well as the odd painful setback as was the case 12 months ago.

The 23-time slam singles champion seemed to be hitting well within herself for this tune-up, without quite the ferocity and authority millions around the world have become accustomed to seeing bludgeon hapless opponents off the court over the past 20 years.

This quartet had to wait until shortly before 7pm to take to the court – the fifth match on in the main arena, and following British No2 Dan Evans’ popular straight-sets win over France’s Adrian Mannarino. But the vast majority of the sell-out crowd stayed behind to give Serena a huge ovation to mark her return the game – however long that might be for.

And with the shadows lengthening across the surface it was Williams, complete with sticking plasters on her face, who started the match by serving first. With the competitive instincts kicking in, the 40-year-old started to really let herself go both with the service and even more the punishing ground strokes off both wings. She did, though, need some excellent court coverage and skilful net play from Jabeur to pocket that first game.

After Bouzkova had comfortably held serve, she and Sorribes Tormo then took apart Jabeur’s delivery to love in the next to clinch the first break, and the Spaniard rubber-stamped that immediately by holding for a 3-1 lead. The Williams serve, arguably the greatest the women’s game has ever seen and one that has dug her out of many a hole during her illustrious career, almost saved her from 0-30 in the next, but after losing the sudden-death deuce point the Czech/Spain duo opened up a 4-1 advantage.

One huge smash at the net from Williams nearly bounced out of the court and you could almost hear the ground shaking. It helped keep the duo just stay in the hunt at 5-2 adrift, only for Sorribes Tormo to emphatically close out the first set.

The first serve, around the 90-95 mph mark in the first set, began to creep up to 115 mph in the second. There were a few nervous glances around Centre Court as Williams slipped at the net with the light fading just before 8pm, but she rose unharmed and bar that looked sure-footed on the grass. Shortly after there was a ruthless and crushing drive-volley against the back of Sorribes Tormo’s leg.

Williams deservedly took the match to a third-set 10-point tie-break, closing out the second set 6-3 with a 102mph ace. And the tiebreak provided a magnificent shootout finale that had the crowd gasping – and Williams and Jabeur eventually clinched the match 13-11 on their third match point to bring the remaining spectators to their feet, and ensure she will play at least once more in Eastbourne ahead of a Wimbledon date next week.


*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change

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