'Totally different': Serena Williams makes dramatic return to tennis

Serena Williams walks across the court with a mask and carrying her bag.
Serena Williams walks across the court with a mask before her match at the Top Seed Open in Kentucky. (Getty Images)

Serena Williams returned to action for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak upended the tennis calendar, defeating Bernarda Pera to set up a second-round clash with sister Venus.

The top seed will face Venus at the Top Seed Open in Lexington after her unseeded sister beat former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-2 in her first-round match on Tuesday.

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Williams made a wobbly start in the first set against fellow American Pera but quickly found her footing, firing off seven aces and saving 11 of 13 break points to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 later telling reporters she was pleased with her competitiveness.

She later claimed the calm surroundings, without a crowd, suited her game.

"It was a really calm atmosphere, it was really chill," Williams said.

"I can't say I disliked it. I didn't mind it at all. I've been through so many things in my career and this was totally different. I think I won today because I was calm for once in my career.

"Kind of reminds me of junior days. Something nostalgic about that. I kind of enjoyed it."

Williams said her opponent really pushed her upon her comeback.

"I just knew I could do better," Williams said. "It was an interesting game. I just had to get used to her game a little bit. She played really well."

Williams bids for record Grand Slam title

The Top Seed Open, the first WTA Tour tournament in the US since the COVID-19 outbreak halted play, provided a taste of what is to come for the 38-year-old American as she bids for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title in Flushing Meadows, with empty, silent stands taking the place of roaring crowds.

Serena Williams prepares to serve during her match.
Serena Williams prepares to serve during her match against Bernarda Pera during Top Seed Open - Day 2 at the Top Seed Tennis Club on August 11, 2020 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

"Being in New York will be a little different because there's this massive stadium," she added.

American teenage phenomenon Coco Gauff also progressed by beating compatriot Caroline Dolehide in straight sets, setting up a clash with 22-year-old second seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

With AFP