It was always going to be a highly-anticipated event and in the end it turned out to be a pretty darn good doubles match. Serena Williams made a winning comeback after a year on the sidelines as the American legend teamed with Ons Jabeur to beat Sara Sorribes Tormo and Marie Bouzkova 2-6, 6-3, 13-11 in the Eastbourne International doubles on Tuesday.
Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, was back in action for the first time since she made a tearful exit from Wimbledon last year.
The 40-year-old suffered a leg injury during her Wimbledon first round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich and had not been seen on court since.
Before Williams made the surprise announcement of her return last week, rumours of retirement had swirled around her for several months.
But, with Wimbledon starting on June 27, Williams finally resumed her career, playing with Jabeur at the Wimbledon warm-up event by the Sussex seaside.
Understandibly, Williams was rusty, and a missed smash at the net from her allowed her opponents to hold serve in the second game of the match before the Williams-Jabeur partnership fell 3-1 down.
With Williams’ groundstrokes initially lacking their usual precision, while Jabeur too looking under some pressure, the first set quickly slipped away. More than the star pair though, that set was about the really high quality of Sorribes-Bouzkova. The Spaniard especially was on song.
The 14-time Grand Slam doubles champion was well short of peak form and Bouzkova and Sorribes Tormo twice led by a break at the start of the second set. Serena, who was appearing in doubles competition on grass for the first time since 2016, when she won Wimbledon with her sister Venus, slowly got the fire behind her strokes. She showed the tenacious spirit that has defined her career, striking the ball cleaner and crisper as she and Jabeur hit back to level the match at one-set all.
Williams had grown into the contest and the match-deciding tie-break tested her nerves as well as her shot-making.
Williams squandered a match point on her serve with a wayward forehand at 9-8 and Jabeur wasted another at 10-9. But the pair saved a match point from Bouzkova and Sorribes Tormo at 10-11, reeling off the last three points to clinch a dramatic victory in the dusk.
(With inputs from AFP)
Here are some of the best points from the match: