Serena displays stretches of power and precision ‘It’s incredible,’ she said of her return to competitive singles
There was a loud roar as Serena Williams walked onto the main stadium court at the BNP Paribas Open, wearing a bulky black jacket and black tights. As her match against Zarina Diyas was about to begin, Williams shed her outerwear to reveal two arm sleeves, an early indicator that the visual gun show that usually intimidates opponents would not be on display.
For a moment, the best women’s player in the history of tennis displayed rare vulnerability.
For half a set, Williams appeared tight.
But in her first competitive singles match in more than a year, Williams eventually settled into a comfort zone on the way to a satisfying 7-5, 6-3 win over Diyas to advance to the second round of the tournament.
To say Williams is back would be a rush to judgment for the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, who was playing her first competitive singles match since winning the 2017 Australian Open title last January.
But she’s a lot further along than anyone who saw her play Fed Cup doubles a month ago could have anticipated.
Williams was sluggish then, surviving conditioning that was not ready for prime time as she played alongside her sister Venus.
From that doubles match, you might have pegged Williams’ return to Grand Slam form sometime next year.
Based on the promise she showed on Thursday night, that timeline might have to be adjusted.
Thursday we gave you a few things to watch in Williams’ return. Here’s how she did:
Her lateral movement was surprisingly good.
Her stamina appeared to get better as the match progressed, and she won several long points.
Her inner drive was on display as she had to dig deep and fight fatigue on a few occasions. There were several rough stretches early in the first set where you might have thought that it would be easier for Williams to ease out of the match quietly and begin focus on her next tournament.
But she recovered from those moments to display stretches of power and precision that left you thinking that she might be back to competitive form later this year.
Her focus was solid as Williams, with the exception of a few displays of emotion, maintained her cool for much of the night.
“It was incredible,” Williams said during her post-match interview. “It’s been over a year, and a kid later.”
Next up for Williams: a Saturday match against Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, the No. 29 player in the world.