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EASTBOURNE, England — Yesterday, as “What a Feeling” boomed around Devonshire Park, Serena Williams strode onto center court at Eastbourne to a standing ovation for her first competitive tennis match in nearly a year.
Around 90 minutes later, fans were on their feet again, celebrating a comeback win for the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion at the Wimbledon warmup event on England’s south coast.
Williams partnered with Ons Jabeur and defeated Sara Sorribes Tormo and Marie Bouzkova in the first round of the women’s doubles. Williams and Jabeur recovered from losing the first set 6-2 to win the second 6-3 and then the match tiebreaker 13-11 on their third match point.
“I caught some fire behind me,” the 40-year-old Williams said. “I needed that. It was good.”
The win means Williams will have at least one more competitive match before playing singles at Wimbledon as a wild-card entry. Main-draw play at the All England Club starts Monday.
Serena Williams will play singles at Wimbledon as a wild-card entry. She is now ranked No. 1,204. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
It was at the grass-court Slam where Williams was last seen in competitive action in 2021. She was playing in the first round when she lost her footing and her right leg buckled, leading to Williams retiring from the match.
With no competitive activity since then, she is ranked No. 1,204 in singles and wasn’t among the seeded players announced by Wimbledon on Tuesday. Few will want to face her when the draw is made Friday.
“I love tennis and I love playing, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, but I also love what I do off the court,” Williams said.
Williams, sporting three black patches on her right cheek, made a slow start to the match alongside Jabeur that marked her third appearance at Eastbourne, having previously played in the singles event in 1998 and 2011.
She served first — her opener was timed at 90 mph (145 kph) and earned the first point after Sorribes Tormo’s reply sailed long — and held to 30. (Associated Press)