Serena ‘on right track’ despite loss


Tue, Feb 13, 2018 - Page 16

Serena Williams was understandably far from her best in her return to competition on Sunday, but the greatest player of her generation said it was a positive step toward her goal of returning to the pinnacle of her sport.

Williams, playing her first official match since having a baby, and older sister Venus were beaten in a dead doubles rubber by the Netherlands in the Fed Cup in Asheville, North Carolina, but walked away feeling upbeat.

“I honestly feel better than I thought I was going to feel,” said Williams, who prior to Sunday had not played a competitive match since her Australian Open victory last year.

“I feel like I didn’t expect to play, you know, like that for me. I feel like I’m on the right track,” she said.

Williams, who in September last year gave birth to her first child, showed glimpses of both her prowess and rust during the 6-2, 6-3 loss to Demi Schuurs and Lesley Kerkhove.

Early in the match, Williams showed the effects of her lengthy layoff, perhaps most noticeably when she shanked a routine volley that left her bent over in embarrassment.

However, shortly after, the owner of an Open-era record 23 grand slam singles titles drew wild cheers when she confidently stepped to the net and stretched out to drive home a superb backhand volley.

“I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe that’s why I felt like I did better. I didn’t expect to ... have that much power on my serves, even though they didn’t go in,” she said. “It’s just a start. I feel like that’s a very good step in the right direction.”

Despite the loss, it was a positive step for Williams, who was bedridden for six weeks from a series of complications, including a pulmonary embolism that led to multiple surgeries after her daughter was delivered by emergency cesarean section.

Still, the 36-year-old said she came into the tie with high expectations.

“If I walk out there with low expectations, then I need to stop doing what I do, so that’s never going to happen for me,” Williams said. “I’m always going to have the best and highest expectations for myself.”

The rubber had no effect on the best-of-five tie as it was played after Venus gave the US an insurmountable 3-0 lead that put the reigning champions into the April 21 to April 22 semi-finals against France.

Williams, who played an exhibition match in December last year in the United Arab Emirates, where she lost to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, said in addition to working on her serve and returns, she needs to manage her time better now that she has her daughter in tow.

“I didn’t manage my time well, but I was thinking about it in the future how to manage it better,” Williams said. “This is literally my first time traveling with the baby and everything. I’m going to try to do better. It was hard. It was the first time for me.”