EASTBOURNE, England — Venus Williams made a successful return to competition after a five-month layoff with a tough 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 win over eighth-seeded Andrea Petkovic in the first round of the Eastbourne International on Monday.
The 30-year-old Williams was clearly rusty. She began the match with two double-faults and made a series of unforced errors, particularly off the forehand side.
But the five-time Wimbledon champion won with her grass-court experience and aggressive play. She wasted three match points in the final game and saved a break point before finally clinching victory when Petkovic went wide with a forehand.
Williams said the blustery wind and damp air on England’s southeast coast contributed to an erratic performance. The 30-year-old slipped on the baseline in the 11th game of the second set, almost doing a split.
“It was definitely an adventure today,” she said. “Falling down every other point, coming back from such a long layoff, competing against someone who’s been playing so well in the last 12 months.
“I was extremely excited to come back with the win. More than anything, I was just really extremely excited to have the opportunity to play another match.”
Petkovic was on the other side of the net when Williams had to retire from her last match at the Australian Open in January with a hip injury.
“It felt fitting, I guess,” Williams said. “It was a great way to start it all off.”
Petkovic went on to reach the quarterfinals in Melbourne and has since risen to No. 11 in the rankings. The 23-year-old led 4-2 in the first set before losing it 7-5, but she fought back to rally from a break down to take the second.
One break in the third set was enough for Williams to seal a spot in the second round, where she will play former top-ranked player Ana Ivanovic or Julia Goerges of Germany.
“It’s a victory to be healthy,” said Williams, who added that she felt no pain from her hip during the match. “As long as I can stay healthy, I know my game will just keep improving every day.”
Sister Serena will make her return to action after nearly a year out against Tsvetana Pironkova. She could then face top-seeded Vera Zvonareva.
Williams says nearly a year away from tennis hasn’t diminished her competitive spirit.
The 13-time Grand Slam champion returns to action at the Eastbourne International after recovering from an injured tendon in her foot, which led to a blood clot in her lung.
Williams says doctors warned her the blood clot could have ended her career. That taught the 29-year-old about “not taking things for granted.”
But she says her attitude hasn’t changed and that she still has “that insatiable, innate thing inside of me that I want everything; I just want to win.”
Williams opens against Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria as she warms up for the defense of her Wimbledon title.
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