Serena Williams and sister Venus won at the BNP Paribas Open to set up a third-round clash in the desert tournament. As she reminded a journalist at Wimbledon in 2016, when asked if she would go down as one of the greatest female athletes of all time: "I prefer the words "one of the greatest athletes of all time".
The 23-time Grand Slam victor answered some of those questions Thursday by blasting four aces and winning 63 percent of her first-serve points against a tough opponent who claimed her first WTA title past year in Tokyo.
Serena Williams made an impressive return to court on Thursday, March 8, after winning against Kazakhstan's Zarina Diyas.
It was far from a ideal performance but former world number one Serena managed to outlast Kiki Bertens 7-6 (7-5) 7-5 Saturday.
The late decision sparked conjecture that her withdrawal had been a family arrangement, a conspiracy theory given further momentum when the Russian player Elena Dementieva said after her quarterfinal loss to Venus Williams that she believed the sisters' father and coach, Richard Williams, decided who would win their matches. Williams's absence from tennis, all 404 days of it, all 14 months, did have the benefit of opening up the field, I suppose, but what a delight for the sport that she's back.
They met for the first time in the second round of the 1998 Australian Open which Venus won 7-6 (7/4), 6-1.
It wasn't a vintage performance for Williams with just one ace and only 59 percent of her service points won, but she excelled in other areas. Serena has a 17-11 head-to-head lead. Until then, I hope there are other women hearing them loud and clear, so that a generation can come up behind them, inspired to do exactly as they did. Following the tournament, the sisters boycott the tournament for the next 14 years before Serena entered in 2015. "I don't think my dad wants me to ever stop playing", the 37-year-old, seven-time Grand Slam champion said. She won four of the final five games of the second set, breaking Cirstea three times to close it out.
Bertens, ranked 29, was broken in the second as Williams served for the match at 5-4, but the next three games all went against serve.
The fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina dropped the first set to Mona Barthel before she charged home to win 2-6 6-1- 6-1.
She will now renew her rivalry with big sister Venus, who advanced to the third round after defeating Romania's Sorona Cirstea 6-3, 6-4, earlier in the day.
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