Serena sets up Venus clash on return after COVID-19 hiatus

FILE PHOTO: Tennis – Australian Open – Third Round – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – January 24, 2020 Serena Williams of the U.S. in action during the match against China’s Qiang Wang REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

(Reuters) – Serena Williams returned to action for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak upended the tennis calendar, defeating Bernarda Pera to set up a second-round clash with sister Venus at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky on Tuesday.

The top seed will face Venus at the outdoor hard court tournament after her unseeded sister beat former world number one Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-2 in her first-round match.

Serena made a wobbly start in the first set against fellow American Pera but quickly found her footing, firing off seven aces and saving 11 of 13 break points to win 4-6 6-4 6-1, later telling reporters she was pleased with her competitiveness.

“It’s good just in general because I haven’t played. A lot of players have been playing – little things and little matches and playing against other players – but I’ve only been training so this was really good for me,” said Serena, who has also committed to playing in the Aug. 31-Sept. 13 U.S. Open.

The Top Seed Open, the first WTA Tour tournament in the U.S. since the COVID-19 outbreak halted play, provided a taste of what is to come for the 38-year-old American as she bids for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title in Flushing Meadows, with empty, silent stands taking the place of roaring crowds.

“I’ve been through so many things in my career so this was totally different,” said Serena, who devoted a lot of her time off to deepening her faith through bible study.

“Being in New York will be a little different because there’s this massive stadium,” she added.

American teenage phenomenon Coco Gauff also progressed by beating compatriot Caroline Dolehide in straight sets, setting up a clash with 22-year-old second seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Ken Ferris

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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