Serena Williams is back on the tennis court after a year off. And the 40-year-old is ready for big challenges after doubts about her possible comeback. But can she already perform miracles at her favorite tournament in Wimbledon?
When number 1204 in the world rankings competes in a doubles match in the English countryside, the local greenkeeper is usually of little interest. However, when that number is the name of Serena Williams, the tennis world stands still for a moment. Then all eyes turn to Eastbourne, the seaside resort in the county of East Sussex.
The US superstar was absent from the tour for 357 days, a year in which belief in the return of the most successful player in modern tennis history dwindled by the hour. Even Williams said after the successful comeback alongside Tunisian Ons Jabeur on Tuesday: "Did I ever doubt that I would return? Absolutely, for sure."
But Williams, now 40 years old, is back and ready for big challenges - on Wednesday she easily made it into the semi-finals with Jabeur. Eastbourne is just the cold start on the way to Wimbledon, where some expect miracles from next week. The statistics are already being rummaged through, which show that since the seeding list was introduced in 1927, no unseeded player has won the oldest tennis tournament in the world.
It's no less for Williams when she enters the All England Club, no matter how long she's been out. She has stretched the Venus Rosewater bowl up into the sky over London seven times and made it to the final eleven times. A hamstring injury stopped her last year, and she disappeared from the touring circus of tennis stars after she gave up in round one.
All was not well on her return, but Jabeur, one of the Wimbledon favorites, was fascinated by her doubles partner. She was nervous "to play with such a legend," admitted number 3 in the ranking. But Serena "made her better on the pitch, even after making mistakes I continued to be encouraged". It was all "a lot of fun".
From Monday, however, things will get serious. Can Williams keep up with Jabeur or series winner Iga Swiatek (Poland) in the individual? "I've been training a lot and it definitely feels good," she said. One thing is certain: no competitor will want Williams as an opponent, just with her serve and the experience of 27 (!) years as a professional she is a danger on the sacred lawn.
And beyond? The 23-time Grand Slam winner supposedly didn't think about that. "I'm literally taking one day at a time. I've really taken my time with my hamstring injury so I don't make a lot of decisions," she said. The entire tennis world will be eager to see where Williams' journey takes him after Eastbourne and Wimbledon.