IT was a little nerve-racking for Serena Williams a multi-Grand Slam winner and title holder to come back from almost a year of maternity leave off the court, to enter the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi on December 30th.
The last time Williams was on the court in a competitive manner was last year with the Australian Open and she was three months pregnant then. “I missed the crowd and the atmosphere . . .” she admitted to the on-court reporter after her match.
She had much of the pressure on her to perform well, with possibly winning and was making her comeback with an opponent, the 2017 French Open Champion Jelena Ostapenko who is 17 years younger than herself. It was excitement all around because it was their maiden time playing one another and Ostapenko said: “I am a little excited because I have never played her”.
But it was Williams’ thought of going back on court saying: “I’m excited, it’s good to be back on the court. This was such a good time for me”. The iconic Williams came up a bit short though in the pacing department and often was caught either on the wrong footing or off balanced with the forehand and backhand strokes at times proving effective and often times not causing and hardship on Ostapenko to return and put away.
The first set for Serena, naturally proved a bit dodgy as she was dealing with many issues comeback players return and have. If it’s not nervousness for being on the court again among a packed house, she wanted to execute shots that were winners against an opponent who played nearly stress-free.
She had said about first coming on court that “In the beginning, it felt a little tough. But as the match moved on, I was less afraid. I knew I was not going to fall over and break. The more I played, the more confident I felt . . .” But despite it all, Ostapenko dictated the opening set winning 6-2, as Williams had issues with controlling her shots and creating many unforced errors.
The second set had the iconic player shaking off much of the butterflies of nervousness and started playing well enough to dictate over the French Open champ finding the open court, putting away shots, doing overhead smashes and also having a much sharper strategy to win 6-3.
But the third and deciding set went into a tiebreaker where Williams was playing looser but growing tired and Ostapenko knew that she’d have to take advantage of opponent’s fatigue, which she did to win the set and the match 6-2, 3-6, 10-5.
But the young French Open champion, has great admiration for Williams and says that “I am really honoured to play Serena in her first match after coming back and I think it is such a great opportunity. She was actually my idol when I was growing up and I saw her matches and I really liked the style she is playing . . .” Everyone had preconceived notions of what to expect from Serena Williams not totally giving the fact that she’s had a baby a few months ago and will not be the same player that left the court over a year now. – tennisworld