Sour-sweet for Serena
Serena Williams eased into the third round of the WTA Dubai Open this morning (Singapore time) in her first match back since injuring her back at last month's Australian Open.
The women's world No. 1 had a decent tussle in the first set, having to save two set-points before beating Russia's Ekaterina Makarova 7-6 (10/8), 6-0.
But, after settling down, there was no stopping Williams, who romped through the second set.
The 32-year-old American, who took a late wildcard into this tournament, began gingerly and took about an hour before she hit the ball with anything like her usual authority.
Once she started to do that, she prevailed more quickly, finishing the match feeling more hopeful that it might have been the right decision to compete again for the first time in four weeks.
"It was really difficult at first and I was a little bit frustrated," Williams admitted.
"I have been practising and this wasn't what I had been practising.
"I was making a lot of errors I don't usually make, and my serve was not popping. But I stayed positive, and the second set was better. The body felt all right."
She trailed 1-3 in the first set, broke back, trailed 3-5, broke back again, and found herself in trouble when she was down 4-6 in the tie-break, with two set-points against her.
At that stage, Williams was far from her real self.
But she is nothing if not a fighter. She saved one set-point with a drop shot, quite a rarity for her, which opened up the court for a forehand pass, and regained parity with an excellent backhand pass down the line.
Her backhand groundstrokes seemed the more secure and it was these which enabled her to force Makarova into errors.
After Makarova counter-hit a ball long to lose that first set, the pattern changed utterly.
Williams broke serve immediately in the second set and the match turned in the American's favour.
"I'm just happy to win because she is a good player. But I am going to have to play better if I am going to do better here," said Williams, who has never won this tournament.
Williams has a day off today during which she will learn of her next opponent. She could play either Jelena Jankovic, the former world No. 1 from Serbia who criticised the legend's behaviour after losing to her in the final of the WTA (season-end) Championships, or Lucie Safarova, the in-form world No. 28 from the Czech Republic.
Williams earlier described the injury which had prevented her from making her scheduled return to the tour last week in Doha as "just really rib issues".
She reckoned that it was "kind of hard to describe, hard to explain, it's kind of tedious to explain - very technical", completing the description with a grin.
Earlier, her elder sister Venus Williams learned that her second-round opponent will be Ana Ivanovic, the former world No. 1 from Serbia, who saved a match-point to survive 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8/6) against Angelique Kerber, the sixth-seeded German. - AFP.
MORNING LATEST TENNIS
I was making a lot of errors I don't usually make, and my serve was not popping. But I stayed positive, and the second set was better. The body felt all right.
- Serena Williams (below) on her win over Ekaterina Marakova