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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Serena Williams on tennis return in Abu Dhabi: 'It felt good to be back out there'

Serena Williams says she will take her return to tennis "one day at a time" after marking her comeback appearance in the first women's match to be played at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Saturday.

Williams, 36, has not played competitively since winning the Australian Open in January, her 23rd grand slam title which has made her the most successful female tennis player in the Open era.

After announcing she was pregnant in April, and therefore won the Melbourne title approximately eight weeks pregnant, Williams missed the rest of the 2017 season to focus on motherhood.

She made a surprise appearance at the Abu Dhabi tournament on Saturday against French Open champion and Latvian world No 7 Jelena Ostapenko.

Ultimately it ended in defeat, but losing 6-2, 3-6, 10-5, having not stepped foot on a stadium court for nearly 12 months and less than four months after giving birth, it was an encouraging first foray back.

“It felt good to be back out there,” Williams said. “I missed playing, I missed the competition, I missed the crowd, the atmosphere, so it was really nice to be back out there.”

For a champion as ruthless as Williams, she admitted to feeling fearful when she first stepped on court - a by-product of the effect motherhood has had on her body.

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“At the beginning, I had a tonne of trepidation out there, but as the match went on I was less afraid - that I’m not going to fall over and break,” she said.

“And the more I played, the more confident I felt, the more I was actually able to go for shots that I was afraid to go for in the first set.

“I think that was really good, and I feel like this was a wonderful opportunity and test to see where I am, not only physically but mentally.

“You have to get over that hump, to say ‘go for that shot, you’re going to be OK’. It’s a lot that goes on to a female’s body after you have a baby, so I think it was perfect.”

Williams has been entered to defend her Australian Open title next month, but she said that no final decision has yet been made on whether she will compete in Melbourne.

“I don’t know if I’m totally ready yet or not,” she said. “When I come back I definitely want to be competing for championships.

“Someone asked me the other day when I started [training again], and I can’t remember, it’s all a blur - when you have the baby and you’re training, then back to the baby. I definitely look forward to getting back out there.

“I’m going to go and assess what I want to do and figure it out.”

Serena Williams returns the ball to Jelena Ostapenko at International Tennis Stadium at Zayed Sports City. Nezar Balout / AFP
Serena Williams returns the ball to Jelena Ostapenko at International Tennis Stadium at Zayed Sports City. Nezar Balout / AFP

Whatever Williams decides to do, motherhood will take precedence, and she is taking a philosophical stance on her comeback and plans for the rest of the season.

“I’m just taking it one day at a time,” she said. “I think being a mother is something incredibly special. I’ve embarked on a really good journey. It’s probably the best journey of my life and I love it so much. It’s pretty awesome.

“I’ve had a lot of comebacks from surgery, but I’ve never had a comeback from giving birth to a human being. So in my eyes I felt that it was a wonderful, wonderful match for me.

“I think everything is so much easier for me to approach having my daughter at home waiting for me. Knowing that, yeah I won 23 grand slam titles and I don’t know how many other titles, basically I don’t have anything to prove. But I just want to go out there and play. I’m not done yet.”