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Serena Williams struggles but returns with win in Lexington

Serena Williams overcomes Bernarda Pera in three sets to begin her Lexington campaign on Tuesday. She awaits either her sister, Venus, or Victoria Azarenka in the second round.

Serena Williams Serena Williams

Following a period five months without competition due to the coronavirus crisis, Serena Williams won her first match at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky on Tuesday afternoon. Williams started slow at the third event since the WTA Tour returned to action (a tournament in Prague is also being played this week), but she recovered for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over fellow American Bernarda Pera. The former world No. 1 needed two hours and 16 minutes to reach the last 16 and set up a showdown against either Victoria Azarenka or none other than her sister, Venus Williams.

Late arrival, slow start

Williams arrived on court 10 minutes late, as if she was either lost or simply did not feel like playing or needed some more time off after having not played for five months. The 38-year-old might as well have remained in the locker room instead of participating in the first set. Pera stole it for an early and unexpected lead, performing well while also taking advantage of a lackluster showing by her heavily favored opponent.

“Playing a three-set match was a perfect test”

Williams was in trouble for much of the second set, as well. At 4-4, Pera got a look at three break points and very easily could have raced away with an upset victory had she converted. With no matches under he belt since much earlier in the year, the world No. 9 looked like she was going to bow out and go back to the practice court. Instead, Williams gallantly fought back. She saved all three of the break points – including two with big forehands – and eventually held for 5-4.

Knowing she had missed her chance against a 23-time Grand Slam champion, Pera promptly got broken while trying to stay in the second set. A winning volley off the line on set point evened up the match for Williams.

With momentum in hand, Williams pocketed the first break of the decider at 2-1 with a flurry of dazzling returns. The 60th-ranked Pera tried to answer, but she did not have enough left in the tank. Williams survived a couple of tough service games and cruised the rest of the way to a comeback win.

“I hadn’t played for so long,” Williams said afterward. “Playing a match in three sets was a perfect test. At 40-0 in the second set (when she saved three break points, at 4- 4), I knew I could do it. I trained well. I knew I could do better. “
And she will likely have to do much better on Wednesday–probably against her sister.

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