Serena Williams was understandably far from her best in her return to competition on Sunday but the greatest player of her generation said it was a positive step toward her goal of returning to the pinnacle of her sport.
Williams, playing her first official match since having a baby, and older sister Venus were beaten in a dead doubles rubber by the Netherlands in the Fed Cup in Asheville, North Carolina, but walked away feeling upbeat.
“I honestly feel better than I thought I was going to feel,” said Williams, who prior to Sunday had not played a competitive match since her 2017 Australian Open victory.
“I feel like I didn’t expect to play, you know, like that for me. I feel like I’m on the right track.”
Williams, who gave birth to her first child last September, showed glimpses of both her prowess and rust during the 6-2 6-3 loss to Demi Schuurs and Lesley Kerkhove.
Early in the match Williams showed the effects of her lengthy layoff, perhaps most noticeably when she shanked a routine volley that left her bent over in embarrassment.
But shortly after, the owner of an Open-era record 23 grand slam singles titles drew wild cheers when she confidently stepped to the net and stretched out to drive home a superb backhand volley.
“I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe that’s why I felt like I did better. I didn’t expect to …have that much power on my serves, even though they didn’t go in,” said Williams.
“It’s just a start. I feel like that’s a very good step in the right direction.”