Serena Williams has marked her return to competitive tennis with a thrilling doubles win alongside Ons Jabeur in Eastbourne.
After 12 months on the sidelines, the 23-time grand slam champion made her long-awaited return on Tuesday at the grass-court event in the lead-up to Wimbledon.
The 40-year-old teamed up with Jabeur to produce a 2-6 6-3 13-11 win over Sara Sorribes Tormo and Marie Bouzkova in the first round clash.
Williams made a slow start but soon got into the groove and hit an array of winners sprinkled with a handful of aces.
She produced a brilliant cross-court winner to secure the second set and send the match to a deciding tiebreak.
"It was so fun to play with Ons," Williams said on-court. "It was great. We had a lot of fun and our opponents played amazing. We were happy to stay in there.
"I called Ons, she has been playing so well and I knew I needed to play some matches and she has always been so nice to me on tour.
"Yeah, I caught some fire behind me, it was good."
Williams walked onto court to Irene Cara's "What A Feeling" for what was her third career appearance at Eastbourne, having previously played in the singles event in 1998 and 2011.
She was also sporting three black patches on her right cheek, a move that had fans and commentators baffled.
"Serena Williams appears to have two large black bandages or some type of tape on her face. No idea what that's about," tweeted reporter Dan Wolken.
Serena Williams appears to have two large black bandages or some type of tape on her face. No idea what that's about.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) June 21, 2022
Has anyone figured out why Serena’s got tape on her face?
— R 🌹🏴 (@ChronicallyT) June 21, 2022
Can someone explain we why Serena has pieces of tape on her face?
— Darth Talon headpiece (@Pawel_Luki) June 21, 2022
Ok…someone tell me what’s w/the tape on Serena’s face?!
I saw it in earlier tweets when she was practicing w/ONS but I didn’t say anything. 🐐 #twentyfour 💪🏼
— G Campbell (@GCampbellll) June 21, 2022
A lady there said that one of Serena’s male trainers walked up to her during practice and put that tape on her face. Maybe some kind of good luck thing??? 🤷🏾♀️
— Morgan Elliott (@MorganElliott9) June 21, 2022
Serena Williams makes successful return to tennis
Williams hadn't played since retiring hurt in the opening round at Wimbledon last year.
Her lengthy absence from the tour sparked speculation she was retiring, however she made the shock announcement earlier this month that she'd accepted a wildcard to play at Eastbourne and Wimbledon.
On Tuesday it took 25 minutes before she produced a winner and her smashed volley into the ground landed in the North Stand to ensure one spectator was able to leave with a souvenir.
A 10-point tiebreaker was required to find a winner in the final set, with Jabeur inexplicably finding the net on match point with the court at her mercy.
The Tunisian World No.3 made amends to set up another match point with a deft drop shot and Sorribes Tormo miscued her volley at the net to ensure the new team started with a win.
It was Williams' first doubles main-draw match on grass since she and sister Venus won the Wimbledon title in 2016.
Jabeur, who won the Berlin WTA singles title last weekend, admitted on Monday she did not need a 'second' to consider teaming up with the American.
"She's such an inspiration and the fact that we're playing doubles together, it's huge news for me and it's unbelievable," she said.
The win means Williams will have at least one more competitive match before playing singles at Wimbledon as a wild-card entry.
Main-draw play at the All England Club starts on Monday.
Earlier at Eastbourne, British No.4 Katie Boulter stormed to one of the biggest wins of her career with a 1-6 6-4 6-4 win over 2021 Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova, while Jodie Burrage completed a day to remember for Britain by beating world No.4 four Paula Badosa 6-4 6-3.
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