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Rediff.com  » Sports » PHOTOS: Serena makes winning return at Indian Wells

PHOTOS: Serena makes winning return at Indian Wells

Last updated on: March 09, 2018 13:57 IST

Serena Williams in action during her first round match against Zarina Diyas at the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, on Thursday

IMAGE: USA's Serena Williams in action during her first round match against Kazakhstan's Zarina Diyas at the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, on Thursday. Photograph: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Serena Williams made her post-childbirth comeback a winning one with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Zarina Diyas in the first round at the BNP Paribas Open in California on Thursday.

In her first singles match in nearly 14 months, since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant, Williams looked understandably rusty in front of a large centre court crowd.

 

Mixing 27 unforced errors with 34 winners, it was far from easy for the unseeded Williams on the slow hard court in Indian Wells.

Only two points from dropping the opening set, she showed the sort of poise that has earned her 23 grand slam singles titles.

After taking a deep breath, Williams unleashed a second serve that kicked up viciously, forcing the 172 cm Kazakh Diyas to reach high for her return, unable to get it back into play.

Holding serve to level at 5-5, Williams broke in the next game, letting out a scream and clenching her left fist as Diyas netted.

The second set was a similarly fairly even contest, with Williams again coming through on the most of the big points.

Williams, 36, gave birth to daughter Alexis Olympia on September 1, but says post-childbirth health complications that included blood clots in her lungs were almost fatal.

She is now healthy again, but skipped this year's Australian Open because she did not consider herself ready for the tournament.

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder and executive chairman of the social news website Reddit, cheers on as his wife Serena Williams plays against Zarina Diyas

IMAGE: Alexis Ohanian, co-founder and executive chairman of the social news website Reddit, cheers on as his wife Serena Williams plays against Zarina Diyas. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

"It was incredible. It's been over a year and a kid later. I get to go home to her now and I'm excited about that," Williams said.

"It definitely wasn't easy but it was good. I'm a little rusty but it doesn't matter. I'm just out here on this journey doing the best I can."

Williams is unseeded at Indian Wells, which is why she had to play the first round while the seeds, including sister Venus, enjoyed a bye. The Williams sisters could meet in the third round.

Serena plays Dutch 29th seed Kiki Bertens in the second round, while Venus takes on Romanian Sorana Cirstea.

After a season of hectic tours, it's finally time for me to take a backseat.

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka also made a winning comeback after eight months out of action, beating Britain's Heather Watson 6-4, 6-2.

Belarus' Victoria Azarenka reacts during her match against Great Britain's Heather Watson

IMAGE: Belarus' Victoria Azarenka reacts during her match against Great Britain's Heather Watson. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

A two-time grand slam winner, Azarenka last played at Wimbledon in July before the legal battle over the custody of her son kept Azarenka off the court for the rest of the season. She also withdrew from the Australian Open in January.

A commanding display in the first set saw Azarenka race to a 5-1 lead but Watson fought back to make it 5-4 before the Belarusian regained control to clinch the set.

The second set was more competitive with Azarenka taking a 4-2 lead before being pushed in a 12-deuce game between the duo but the 28-year-old held on to make it 5-2 and charge to victory.

"It was tough, especially in moments that I have been out of the game...," the two-time champion said after the match. "It's a pretty good start. I had my heart out playing here and that's the most important."

Azarenka has now won all six of her matches against Watson and will play US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the next round.

Argentina's Frederico Delbonis, plays a returns against USA's Ryan Harrison 

IMAGE: Argentina's Frederico Delbonis, plays a returns against USA's Ryan Harrison. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

In the men's draw, Argentine Federico Delbonis saved two match points and earned a second-round clash with Roger Federer when he outlasted Ryan Harrison 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday.

The crowd which had gathered to watch Serena Williams's post-childbirth comeback in the evening session instead were entertained by a high-quality men's contest that stretched from afternoon into the night in Indian Wells, California.

Delbonis used his powerful forehand to good effect, eventually dispatching the American in a match that featured numerous long rallies.

The Argentine put away a smash with aplomb to save a second match point, after previously in the same game allowing the ball to go as he rushed the net, only to watch in dismay as it landed on the baseline and brought up the first match point against him.

Suitably buoyed by staving off defeat, 67th-ranked Delbonis broke in the next game and then held serve for the victory, converting his first match point to a perfunctory reception from the pro-Harrison crowd.

Delbonis's reward will be another trip to centre court to face top seed and defending champion on the weekend.

As Federer and the other top seeds cooled their heels, Russian Daniil Medvedev maintained his perfect career record against Steve Johnson when he beat the American 7-6(0), 6-4.

Canada's Denis Shapovalov lunges to play a backhand return to Lithuania's Ricardas Berankis 

IMAGE: Canada's Denis Shapovalov lunges to play a backhand return to Lithuania's Ricardas Berankis. Photograph: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

American Johnson saved two match points, the second in a 21-shot rally.

Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov, meanwhile, was too good for qualifier Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, winning 6-3, 6-4.

In another match, Taylor Fritz saved a match point before edging good friend Reilly Opelka 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 in an all-American contest.

Opelka was best man in 2016 when Fritz married fellow pro Raquel Pedraza.

"Obviously it is always uncomfortable playing someone you are such good friends with," Fritz said.

"We both do know each other's tricks and tendencies so that comes into play."

In the day's biggest upset, American qualifier Mitchell Krueger outlasted 46th-ranked Benoit Paire of France 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.

It was the first top-level victory for 234th-ranked Krueger.

Canadian qualifier Peter Polansky won the day's closest match but only after squandering seven match points, and saving two, before finally dispatching Romanian Marius Copil 7-6(3), 6-7(5), 7-6(12) in a three-hour thriller.

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