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Aegon International: Serena shapes up in comeback after slow start

The Williams sisters are back. Not back to their best just yet but maybe not that very far away from it.

Anyone who made the mistake of writing off Serena at the 2007 Australian Open when, out of condition and overweight, she lumbered through early rounds before springing to life will be loath to repeat the mistake.

Perhaps the bookies were right after all, but could she really go from her deathbed to a Wimbledon title in the space of three months? Don't bet against her doing so.

It would be interesting to know, though, what her odds were after the first set of her opening match against Tsvetana Pironkova, of Bulgaria, in the Aegon International at Eastbourne yesterday. She should be grateful that tennis is not refereed like boxing otherwise Alison Lang, the umpire, might have been tempted to call a halt to proceedings there and then to save the American from further punishment.

In that opening set — which she lost 6-1 and will want to forget very quickly — she was slow, awkward and, dare one say, almost timid. Her first serve was practically unrecognisable. Since when did Serena regularly toss them in at speeds in double figures? That was partly due to the fact that she was obliged to go for accuracy at the expense of power after a few mistakes.

It was her movement that was giving most cause for concern then. At her best, she is an intimidating figure even when she isn't taking a mighty swipe at the ball. She seemed to be holding back, perhaps, in fear of a fall. The pulmonary embolism she suffered with is hopefully a thing of the past but a heavy fall would have been the last thing she needed. o

While accepting that her movement wasn't good — “I was really focused just trying to get my feet to move, which was a task in itself” — typically, she offered an alternative reason for not wanting to fall down. “Look, I always try not to fall down,” she explained. “It's definitely not cool on my nails if I fall, because I can potentially break one, and that makes me really upset.”

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What was encouraging for the real Serena fans as she recovered to win 1-6 6-3 6-4 was her shape. Compared to the Serena of '07 she was positively slim-line. Cruelly teased about her weight then, she memorably answered her critics with the comment: “I know I have a big fat butt and big fat boobs and there's nothing I can do about it. Generally guys like butts and boobs, so it's not an issue for me.”

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