LEXINGTON, Ky. – Serena Williams was calm in a return more dramatic than some might have expected even after a long layoff.
Williams needed to rally to win in her comeback following a six-month layoff, beating unseeded American Bernarda Pera 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in Tuesday's first round of the Top Seed Open.
Williams advanced to a second-round showdown against older sister Venus, who dispatched Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-2. The two will meet for the 31st time in a match that figures to be emotionally and physically challenging for both of them.
Serena first had to clear some athletic hurdles against Pera.
Looking to return to form following the break caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the 23-time Grand Slam champion labored to avoid her 14th loss to an opponent ranked outside the top 50. The ninth-ranked Williams fell off quickly after a good start as Pera, ranked No. 60, broke her at love in the fifth game on the way to a first-set victory.
The tournament’s top seed positioned herself to even the match to break Pera for a 3-1 lead in the second set before Pera answered with a break in the next game. The Croatian-born Pera eventually evened the set and had Williams down 0-40 at 4-4 before Williams, 38, rallied to stay on serve.
“I just knew I needed to be better,” Williams said. “I knew I could be better. And it was an interesting game. She had so many winners and (was) so low. I just had to kind of get used to a game a little bit. She played really well.”
Williams needed another rally to win the next game before getting a hard-earned break to force a third set. She bore down from there to break Pera at 3-1, then gutted out the next game at deuce and sealed the match with another break.