Serena Williams has marked her comeback appearance with a doubles victory at Eastbourne and admitted afterwards she feared there would never be a return to tennis.
An injury to her right leg at Wimbledon last summer saw the 23-time grand slam singles champion sidelined from the WTA Tour for a lengthy period of time.
Retirement rumours gathered pace when long-term coach Patrick Mouratoglou started to work with Simona Halep earlier this year but Williams sprung a surprise last week when she announced her return.
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The 40-year-old revealed she had received a wild card into Wimbledon singles and would start preparations at Devonshire Park, where she teamed up with Ons Jabeur for a 2-6 6-3 13-11 doubles success over Marie Bouzkova and Sara Sorribes Tormo on Tuesday evening.
“Did I ever doubt I would return? Absolutely, for sure. I would be dishonest if I said it wasn’t and now my body feels great,” said seven-times Wimbledon champion Williams.
“I definitely felt good out there and I was talking with Ons in the first set saying ‘we’re not playing bad’ because they were just playing really good in that first set.
“But obviously winning, getting more balls and playing a little bit more made us feel a lot better. It definitely felt reassuring. It has been clicking in practice and now it seems like it is clicking.”
Williams refused to be drawn on whether her return was the beginning of a farewell tour after overcoming a rusty opening to show flashes of her old self during an entertaining encounter.
Bouzkova and Sorribes Tormo, who in April won a doubles tournament in Istanbul, clinched the first set in just over half an hour but Williams’ agility was noticeably improved in the second.
A tie-breaker was required to settle the last-16 clash and the desire of the seven-time Wimbledon singles champion was evident when she dived to her right to make a volley which set up a first match point.
Quizzed on her future, Williams insisted it is “literally … one day at a time”.
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“I really took my time with my hamstring injury so I am not making a ton of decisions after this,” Williams said.
“I did a lot of non-training in the beginning obviously and after I couldn’t play New York I went cold turkey of not working out.
“It felt good but I always try to stay semi-fit because you never know when you are going to play Wimbledon.
“I love tennis and I love playing otherwise I wouldn’t be here but I also love what I do off the court.”
In the women’s singles draw, Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic was beaten 6-4 6-4 by eighth seed Jelena Ostapenko in the round of 32 as she continued her Wimbledon preparation.
Wimbledon starts on Monday.