Rusty Serena battles past Pironkova
Serena Williams bounced back from an awful start to her first match in almost 12 months to claim a 1-6 6-3 6-4 victory over Tsvetana Pironkova in the first round of the AEGON International.
Since winnning Wimbledon last year, Williams has had to overcome a gashed foot that required surgery before being struck down by a blood clot in her lungs.
Having seen her sister Venus make a winning return of her own in Eastbourne on Monday, the spotlight was on Serena on Tuesday. It looked like she would wilt under the spotlight as she started in wretched fashion. The backhand was non-existent, the forehand weak and service action shaky. She surrendered the opening set in 27 minutes, but delved into the memory banks to somehow battle through.
Any thoughts of picking up where she left off at Wimbledon 12 months ago were dispelled in the first game as her movement was hesitant and she threw a couple of backhands long. A missed smash in the second game handed Pironkova a break and it went from bad to worse for the former world No. 1 as she served a double fault and netted a backhand to surrender her serve for a second time - prompting her to smash her racket in frustration.
Williams avoided the ignominy of the bagel when winning the sixth game, but Pirinkova held serve to take the opening set in 27 minutes.
The American is a winner of 13 grand slams and drew on that talent to secure a break at the start of the second set - having staved off a break point in the previous game. Williams finally found some consistency on length and it enabled her to close out the second set.
The third set saw Williams race ahead, only to surrender her serve immediately. There was a further break which prompted Williams to squeal with delight as if she was playing in a Wimbledon final. It may have been a shade over the top, which was repeated as she held serve in gritty fashion in the eighth game, but it demonstrated her hunger is still strong.
Pironkova held serve to force Williams to serve out and she did to confirm she will be a force at Wimbledon, as this display will blow away the cobwebs.
Also through to the second round is Ana Ivanovic, with the Serbian seizing on some wild play from Julia Goerges to win 6-4 6-3. The German made 33 unforced errors, which played a key part in Ivanovic easing through. "It is the toughest transition for us players," Ivanovic said of moving from clay to grass. "Today I enjoyed it and the atmosphere is great. Yesterday was tough with the wind but today was great and hopefully it will be like this for the rest of the week."
And former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone showed her talents are not restricted entirely to clay, beating Kaia Kanepi 7-6(7) 6-1.