Indian Wells: Serena Williams marks return to professional tennis after childbirth with solid victory in first round
Serena Williams, who had not played a singles match since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant, chalked up 27 unforced errors with 34 winners to defeat Zarina Diyas 7-5, 6-3
Serena Williams conceded she had been rusty on her return to professional tennis after more than a year away from the game but still did enough to secure a 7-5 6-3 win over Zarina Diyas in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday.
Williams, who had not played a singles match since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant, chalked up 27 unforced errors with 34 winners to defeat her 53rd-ranked opponent in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd in California.
“It was incredible. It’s been over a year and a kid later. I get to go home to her now and I’m excited about that,” Williams said.
“It definitely wasn’t easy but it was good. I’m a little rusty but it doesn’t matter. I’m just out here on this journey doing the best I can.”
Williams was only two points from dropping the opening set but showed the sort of poise that has earned her 23 grand slam singles titles.
After taking a deep breath, she unleashed a second serve that kicked up viciously, forcing the Kazakh to reach high for her return, unable to get it back into play.
Holding serve to level at 5-5, Williams broke in the next game, letting out a scream and clenching her left fist as Diyas netted.
The second set was a fairly even contest, with Williams again coming through on most of the big points.
The 36-year-old gave birth to daughter Alexis Olympia on 1 September, but says post-childbirth health complications that included blood clots in her lungs were almost fatal.
She is now healthy again, but skipped this year’s Australian Open because she did not consider herself tournament ready.
Williams is unseeded at Indian Wells, which is why she had to play the first round while the seeds, including sister Venus, enjoyed a bye. The Williams sisters could meet in the third round.
Serena plays Dutch 29th seed Kiki Bertens in the second round, while Venus takes on Romanian Sorana Cirstea.
Sabalenka was beaten by Barty in the final in Stuttgart last month but exacted revenge at the Caja Magica, a storming 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 victory clinching the biggest title of her career.
A message from the tournament's official twitter account read: "Novak Djokovic will not be playing in the Mutua Madrid Open. 'Sorry that I won’t be able to travel to Madrid this year and meet all my fans”, said Djokovic. 'It’s been two years already, quite a long time. Hope to see you all next year!'".
Despite winning the opening set on a tie-breaker, Zverev, the 2017 and 2018 Munich champion, bowed out 7-6 (7/5), 5-7, 3-6 after Ivashka of Belarus converted his first match point.