There was a rare Serena sighting Monday night on a tennis court inside Madison Square Garden. But Serena sightings are about to become more common again.
Serena Williams is scheduled to make her return to the WTA Tour this week in the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in California. She was at the Garden playing for only the third time since her return after taking almost a year off for the birth of her daughter.
“I’m having so much fun being a mom,” Williams told the crowd just before this Tie Break Tens tournament began. “Having time off was good, too. I’m just so excited to be back playing at Madison Square Garden.”
She was playing in a unique eight-woman tournament that dates to 2015. This was its U.S. debut. Williams ended up bowing out in the semifinals. The winner-take-all prize of $250,000 went to Elina Svitolina.
Tie Break Tens is tennis in a hurry because the matches are all tiebreaks with the first player to reach 10 points or more with a margin of at least two points the winner. The tournament is completed in one session.
Williams, though, may need to have a little patience in regular tournament play as she tries to work her way back to greatness, according to her coach. Patrick Mouratoglou told wtatennis.com that this comeback is her “biggest challenge” yet.
But Williams told the crowd afterward, “I think everyone should have high expectations. You should always believe in yourself when no one else does.”
Williams was pregnant when she won the Australian Open in January of 2017, giving her an Open-era record of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, one behind Margaret Court’s all-time mark.. Then Williams took her maternity leave. Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. arrived in September.
After giving birth, Williams developed blood clots in her lungs, which also happened to her in 2011. This time, she has said she almost died and was bedridden for six weeks.
“Now she is 36, just had a child, a second blood clot, has gone more than a year without any competition,” Mouratoglou said. “I think we can say without a doubt that this is her biggest challenge.”
She returned on Dec. 30 and lost an exhibition match, then lost with sister Venus in a Fed Cup doubles match to a Netherlands duo on Feb. 11.
“I mean, the matches are definitely a good way to know where you are, but obviously she knows how to play,” Venus told The Associated Press.
Venus exited in the first round. Serena’s opening match followed.
She fell behind Marion Bartoli 4-2 before going on a six-point run, including back-to-back aces. When a Bartoli return sailed long, Williams had a 10-6 win and a ticket into the semis.
“It’s so fun to be out here again,” she said.
Shuai Zhang outlasted her 13-11, although it appeared Williams was denied two points that should have given her the victory. But she didn’t bring that up in her on-court interview.
“I wish I made a few more shots,” Williams said before adding, “I can’t wait for the future.”