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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Serena Williams

Playing her first match in five months, Serena Williams rolled through eight of the last nine games topping Bernarda Pera 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. She will face sister Venus Williams in round two.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

The baseline resembled a balance beam as Serena Williams struggled to stay on her feet.

The top seed fell down and fell behind, but regained her range and rhythm sticking her comeback landing in Lexington.

A defiant Serena denied 11 of 13 break points roaring through eight of the last nine games rallying past Bernarda Pera 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to reach the Top Seed Open second round.

In a battle of former world No. 1 Grand Slam champions, Venus Williams played dynamic tennis defeating Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-2 setting up a blockbuster rematch with sister Serena.

The oldest woman in the field lifted a brilliant rainbow lob winner sealing her first win of 2020 in one hour, 
20 minutes.

Ready for Episode 31 of the Venus vs. Serena rivalry?

Venus is positively pumped up by the prospect of another sisterly showdown.

"It’s so special," Venus said on-court afterward. "I mean who would have guessed that this draw would have happened playing two former world number ones and Grand Slam champions in first two rounds in Kentucky. I’m like Oh my God. This is what it is. These are great tests for me coming into the season and I know I’m hitting the ball well. Victoria is hitting the ball unbelievable.

"I know Serena came back from the brink and waited till the last minute to play her best tennis and that’s what champions are made of. Here we go again. Number 31 and I’m looking forward to the next one too after this too."

It was Williams’ first match since she split a couple of Fed Cup singles contests last February.

After an uneven start, the four-time Olympic gold-medal champion made a second set stand landing a second-round clash vs. 40-year-old Venus Williams.

“I just haven’t played for so long so—even matches and practice matches I haven’t played,” Williams said. “I’ve just been training. It was good. I hink it was really good to go through the match and win a match that was three sets.

“I knew I’ve been practicing really well and I wasn’t getting a good rhythm out here. I kept thinking Serena play like you’ve been practicing. I knew that I could play a little bit better if I just hung in there.”

The match was played without fans creating a quiet atmosphere. At times only the cars buzzing by on the nearby street and the sounds of the players breathing and grunting piercing the silence though afterward Serena said she could hear her daughter, Olympia, eating grapes in the stands.

"It was a really calm atmosphere,” Williams said. “It was really chill. I can’t say I disliked it at all. I kind of didn’t mind it. It was different. This was totally different.

"I think I won today because I was calm for once in my career and I think that was really important."

As expected, there were signs of rust from a five-month layoff.

An off-balance Serena struggled a bit to time the left-hander’s serve in the opening set and tumbled to the court in the opening set.

The game’s premier server faced triple break point four times in the first two sets, scattered six double faults to seven aces and had to dig out of a love-40 deficit at 4-all in the second set. 

That's when the 38-year-old mom drilled a running forehand strike down the line igniting her comeback charge.

Deadlocked at 4-all, Williams twice skidded shots off the baseline, but Pera answered both times before the Auckland champion scattered a drop shot falling into a love-30 hole.

For the fourth time, Pera earned love-40 on Williams’ serve.

A crackling running forehand down the line saved the second break point. Playing bold baseline strikes, Williams caught the service line with a serve and banged a backhand off the baseline erasing a third break point.

Floating a backhand beyond the baseline, Williams faced a fourth break point

The 38-year-old Williams drilled a twisting serve to deny it and held strong in the ninth game before breaking Pera again to seize the second set and force a decider.

"I was pleased with my being competitive out there," Serena said. "I mean I’m always competitive staying in the moment not getting down.

"I’m playing unbelievable in practice. I’m actually calm. Compared to how I’m practicing that was nothing. I know I’m gonna get better with each match. I need more rhythm more time and just be out there playing matches. I know it’s gonna come."

It came in the final set as Williams did a better job staying low through her returns and was reading the left-hander’s slice more accurately. Pera sailed a shot as Williams broke at 30 for 3-1.

Navigating a tricky hold, Williams backed up the break in the fifth game.

Crunching a crosscourt forehand, Williams closed a two hour, 16-minute conquest with a love hold.

The six-time US Open champion's day wasn't done. Serena stuck around to watch Venus vanquish Victoria Azarenka.

“I’m definitely gonna probably watch," Serena said. "I feel like I always play Venus like every single tournament first or second round so that’s annoying.

"And I always play Vika really early so we’ll see."

In another all-American opener, 16-year-old Coco Gauff zapped eight aces defeating Caroline Dolehide 7-5, 7-5. 

"Honestly, I give it an A—I mean that was my first match back since January,” Gauff said. "Even though I probably didn’t play the best tennis as possible I think that the attitude and effort was an A. Because I was really nervous before today’s match because I didn’t play in a while. I honestly did better than I thought."

Gauff, who reached the Wimbledon fourth round as a qualifier last summer, will face second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka next.  Sabalenka stopped Madison Brengle, 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2 yesterday.

"I’m just gonna approach it same as I do every match wanting to win and hopefully having a good mentality out there," Gauff said.


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