SERENA WINS FIRST
MATCH AFTER 14-MONTH ABSENCE
Ashley Marshall | March 9, 2018
Former world No. 1 Serena Williams celebrated her return to the WTA Tour with a win in her first competitive singles match in almost 14 months Thursday in Indian Wells.
The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion defeated world No. 53 Zarina Diyas, 7-5, 6-3, in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open in her first tournament since giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia in September.
"I was thinking from zero to Serena, I'm probably at the 'S.' I got a little ways to go,” Williams said after the match. “But I'll get there. It's a journey for me. I'm not going to get there instantly. I'm just going to go for it.
"Right now, for this particular tournament, I'm really just trying to take it easy and not put too much stress or expectation on myself. This is one of the few times I've been able to do that.
It's been really fun."
Williams last played a competitive match at the 2017 Australian Open, a tournament she won while pregnant to surpass Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam singles titles won in the Open era.
Since that victory 404 days ago, Williams has seen very little time on the court. She lost an exhibition to Jelena Ostapenko in December and a dead doubles rubber with sister Venus Williams in Team USA’s Fed Cup win over the Netherlands last month. Earlier this week, she took part in an exhibition in New York City, playing a pair of matches in the first-to-10-points Tie Break Tens tournament.
Thursday's return, however, was the first real meaningful match she’s played in more than a year and the first one with ranking points and Tour-sanctioned prize money up for grabs.
Spots of rust were inevitable, considering the length of her absence and the fact that she experienced post-birth complications and blood clots in her lungs that nearly proved fatal.
But there were still enough glimpses of the power and brilliance that lead many to proclaim her as the greatest tennis player in the history of the sport. Even against a player who was ranked as high as No. 31 in the world, there was little doubt the six-time US Open champion would prevail.
Diyas saved five break points in the 49-minute first set, including four in the fifth game of the match, but the 36-year-old Williams eventually broke through at 5-5 to help her strike the opening blow.
The American dropped her serve twice in the second set, but three consecutive breaks of Diyas' serve compensated for the setback, as she claimed four of the final five games to punch her ticket to the second round.
Williams will face Dutch world No. 29 Kiki Bertens in the second round, with a possible third-round match against Venus awaiting the winner.
"I'm playing with nothing to lose, I only can gain,” Williams said. “I could have been playing like that for years. I really have nothing to lose right now.
"For me, it's a real joy to be out here. Sometimes I think about those moments I was in the hospital and just not really realizing how serious it was until later, and being able to come through that makes me feel like, no matter what happens, I know I'm capable of being strong. Whether I win or lose, there's so much more to my life."