The last time Serena played Eastbourne (1998) she went out in the quarters to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. Twas a different era.
This time she’d “only” been out for 11 months. It still felt too long.
S. Williams d. Pironkova 1-6, 6-3, 6-4
It was scrappy, it was inelegant, it was ingenious, it was utterly terrifying.
But at the end of it she’d won her first match in 11 months. And, just like her sister the day before, it took all of three sets.
She might just as easily have taken Tsvetana in straights or herself be taken down in much the same way. It was anyone’s guess. And most felt more comfortable not guessing at all.
In the end, neither, or something closer to both those eventualities, was what came to pass.
The lack of competitive matchplay was only too evident in a torrid first set that quickly saw her go 5-0 down.
But from the fifth game onwards (and notably after what seemed a conscious decision to take some pace off the ball) a transformation began to take place.
It wasn’t immediate, and at first its only observable effect was that she was staying longer in rallies and gingerly constructing the type of short angles that seemed born as much of compromise than anything else.
Whatever it was, it gave her the leverage she needed, as more and more winners began dropping on the right side of the lines, and by the end of it, the “best server in the game” seemed as fluid as ever.
It wasn’t “vintage Serena” (except only sporadically), but then neither was it the unsavoury fiasco some were fearful of.
In other words, she acquitted herself rather well – far better than any of us had the right to expect given the nature and length of her absence. Bepa or Heather Watson await in round two.
Reluctant as I am to stultify the post with premature and sordid talk of how she may or may not fare at Wimbledon, her appetite for winning was only too evident.
If you take only that, and nothing else, away from this match, it spells IMPOSSIBLY BAD NEWS for everyone else.
Factor in a sister that’s won more Wimbledon titles than any other active player and…