Serena Williams lost her first official match since maternity leave as she and sister Venus were beaten in a doubles dead rubber by the Netherlands in the Fed Cup in Asheville.
Serena, who gave birth to her first child last September and had not played a competitive match since her triumph at the 2017 Australian Open, showed glimpses of her prowess and rust during the 6-2, 6-3 loss to doubles specialist Demi Schuurs and world No.165 Lesley Kerkhove.
Among those in the sellout crowd for the World Group first-round tie at the US Cellular Arena was the 36-year-old American’s daughter Olympia.
“It’s great. It’s her first match so I’m glad she got to see it,” Serena said in an on-court interview.
Early in the match Serena showed the effects of her lengthy lay-off, 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.
Despite the loss, it was a positive step for Serena, who was bedridden for six weeks from a series of complications, including a pulmonary embolism that led to multiple surgeries, after her daughter was delivered by emergency cesarean section.
Serena did play an exhibition match last December in Dubai, where she lost to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and shortly after decided against playing the Australian Open because of fitness concerns.
The doubles dead rubber had no impact on the best-of-five tie as it was played after Venus gave the US an insurmountable 3-0 lead that put the reigning champions into the April 21-22 semi-finals against France.