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Spirit of a champion

sports Updated: Jun 21, 2011 23:15 IST

Highlight Story

Serena Williams's first match at a Grand Slam event in nearly a year was over, and she was crying as she waved to the Wimbledon crowd, crying into her towel, crying as she walked off one of the courts where she has defined her career.

But these were not tears of farewell or disappointment on Tuesday. They were tears of release and relief after a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Aravane Rezaï in the first round and after a year of major health problems and major doubts about whether she would return to the game. "I usually don't cry, so I don't understand it, but it's just been so hard," Williams said. " I never dreamt I would be here right now." - The New York Times

The last time Williams played on Centre Court at Wimbledon was last July, when she defeated Vera Zvonareva in straight sets to win her fourth Wimbledon singles title and 13th Grand Slam singles title. But she then missed the next 11 months of competition after two operations to repair a torn tendon in her right foot and then more hospitalization to recover from blood clots in both lungs and a hematoma that required more surgery.

Determined to win

She said Sunday that she feared for her life at one stage, but she also said that she was always determined to return to the sport she has dominated intermittently since the early 2000s. After returning to practice in April, she returned to the circuit for the grass-court tournament in Eastbourne this month and lost in the second round in three sets to Zvonareva.

On Tuesday, at age 29 and seeded seventh, she returned to Grand Slam action against Rezaï, a young, unseeded French player with remarkable baseline power who has modeled her game on Williams's and her older sister Venus's.

Though Serena Williams struggled at times with her first-serve consistency and with her returns, she also showed frequent flashes of vintage Williams: ripping forehand winners in extension and finishing with 13 aces, including the one on the final point that reduced her to tears.

"It's been a disaster year, but I've been praying and I have my family and I love tennis," Williams said. "I didn't expect to play. I'm just excited. I never cried with joy for anything."

Williams will now face the unseeded Simona Halep of Romania in the second round, scheduled for Thursday. Williams has been pushed to three sets in all three of her matches since her comeback. She is unquestionably rusty but unquestionably dangerous, too.