Williams beat the Bulgarian, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 on a packed center court at the Aegon International grass-court tournament in Eastbourne, England. Wimbledon, the year’s third Grand Slam event, starts June 20.
“I am a little rusty, but really enjoy playing here,” Williams, 29, said in a court-side interview. “It’s great to be back.”
The American is making her comeback to the women’s tour at the Wimbledon warm-up event on the south coast of England after being sidelined by two foot operations last year and treatment for blood clots in her lung in February. Today was her first match since she collected her 13th Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in July.
Watched by her sister and five-time Wimbledon champion Venus and their father Richard, Williams started off nervously, producing a double fault in her first service game. After dropping serve for the second time in the match for 4-0 down, she cracked her racket on the grass. The 34th-ranked Pironkova, who reached the Wimbledon semifinals last year, took the first set 6-1 as Williams struggled with her ground strokes and movement.
The momentum shifted in the second set, as Williams held serve after saving a break point and then broke the Bulgarian to take a 2-0 lead. Williams took the second set 6-3 with a forehand volley. Serving for the match at 5-3 in the final set, Williams produced her seventh ace and moved to the next round with a deep backhand.
Formerly ranked No. 1 and now 26th on the WTA tour, Williams will either play British wildcard Heather Watson or Vera Zvonareva in the next round. The Russian, the top seed in Eastbourne, lost to Williams in last year’s Wimbledon final.
Williams told a news conference yesterday the blood clots she sustained in February could have been “life-threatening” and “career-ending.”
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