Serena Williams was calm in a return more dramatic than some might have expected — even after a long layoff.
Williams needed to rally to win in her comeback following a six-month layoff, beating unseeded American Bernarda Pera 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in first round of the Top Seed Open.
Williams advanced to a second-round showdown today against older sister Venus, who dispatched Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-2. The two will meet for the 31st time in a match that figures to be emotionally and physically challenging for both of them.
“From one Grand Slam (winner), one No. 1 to another,” said Venus Williams, who’s 12-18 against her sister. “It’s been quite the draw for me but, honestly, it’s perfect because I don’t play forever so I want to play the best players. And I think I got my wish. Here we go.”
Serena first had to clear some athletic hurdles against Pera in the opening match at center court.
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Looking to return to form following the break caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the 23-time Grand Slam champion labored to avoid her 14th loss to an opponent ranked outside the top 50.
The ninth-ranked Williams quickly struggled after a promising start as Pera, ranked No. 60, broke her at love in the fifth game on the way to a first-set victory.
The tournament’s top seed positioned herself to even the match to break Pera for a 3-1 lead in the second set before Pera answered with a break in the next game.
The Croatian-born Pera eventually evened the set and had Williams down 0-40 at 4-4 before the 38-year-old Williams rallied to stay on serve.
“I just knew I needed to be better,” Williams said. “I knew I could be better. And it was an interesting game. She had so many winners and (was) so low. I just had to kind of get used to a game a little bit. She played really well.”
Williams needed another rally to win the next game before getting a hard-earned break to force a third set. She bore down from there to break Pera at 3-1, then gutted out the next game at deuce and sealed the match with another break.
Williams took 2 hours, 16 minutes to make it to another day at an event where players hope to polish their hard-court skills for this month’s U.S. Open in New York.
She was excited to get going after the long layoff.