The Associated Press
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — The first step in Serena Williams’ comeback underscored how far she has to go after spending over a year away from the game.
In Williams’ first competition since giving birth five months ago, she and sister Venus lost 6-2, 6-3 to Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands in a Fed Cup doubles match Sunday.
“I honestly feel better than I thought I was going to feel,” she said.
The United States already had clinched a victory in the best-of-five event thanks to a pair of singles victories by Venus Williams, so this doubles loss merely narrowed the final score to 3-1.
The United States advanced to a World Group semifinal April 21-22 at France, which defeated Belgium 3-2 this weekend.
The clincher came Sunday when Venus Williams won the final five games in a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Richel Hogenkamp. The Americans had taken a 2-0 lead Saturday when Venus Williams beat Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-4 and CoCo Vandeweghe rallied from a set and a break down to defeat Hogenkamp 4-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3.
“Obviously this is an important moment, when you’re playing not just for yourself but your other team members and your captain and your country,” Venus Williams said. “It’s definitely a different kind of pressure.”
But this event was most notable for the return of Serena, who hadn’t played competitive tennis since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant for her 23rd career Grand Slam singles title, one off Margaret Court’s record. Her only match since had come in a Dec. 30 exhibition.
Czechs make semifinals
In other Fed Cup action this weekend, the Czech Republic beat Switzerland 3-1 and Germany beat Belarus 3-2. Germany will host the Czech Republic in the other semifinal.
Dual Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova beat Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-4 in the first reverse singles to give the Czechs an insurmountable 3-0 lead in Prague.
The Czechs advanced to the semifinals for the 10th straight time.