In the end, there was no smile when the almost two-hour match was over. Just a relieved look, arms raised in triumph.
14 months had passed since then Serena Williams had an individual win. But with the support of the crowd in their first-round match at the Canadian Open on Monday, the 40-year-old returned to the Victory Column with a 6-3, 6-4 win Nuria Parrizas-Diaz This was a much tougher fight than the score would suggest.
“It’s great to be back in Toronto, I didn’t know if I could play here again,” Williams said during her on-court interview after the win. “This is one of my favorite stops on the tour, I was really happy to be back.”
When the interview ended, she addressed the crowd directly. “Thanks everyone,” she said emphatically. “I love you.”
Another year, another Serena win 🙌
— wta (@WTA) August 8, 2022
For most of Williams’ career, a first-round win over a lucky loser ranked at world No. 57 would not have evoked such emotions in the 23-time Major champion. But the wins were harder to come by and the injuries harder to recover – and it’s clear it just means more these days.
“I guess there’s only a light at the end of the tunnel, I’m getting closer to the light, so that’s been it for me lately, I can’t wait to get to that light,” Williams told reporters after the game laugh but insist she wasn’t kidding. “I love to play, it’s amazing but I can’t do this forever so sometimes you just want to do your best to enjoy the moments and do the best you can.”
The former world No. 1 was sidelined for almost a year with a hamstring injury sustained at Wimbledon in 2021 and rumors of her retirement grew louder with each tournament. But such speculation was once again premature.
Williams made her much-anticipated return to competition earlier this summer by playing doubles at Eastbourne Ons Jabeur. The duo reached the semifinals before withdrawing for Jabeur due to a knee injury. Williams then returned to singles play at Wimbledon, where he She lost in a first-round thriller to harmony tan, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7). Williams had the center court crowd firmly on her side and momentum at times, but ultimately the gridiron triumphed over the flashes of brilliance, and despite a 3-1 edge in the deciding set and a later 4-0 lead in the tiebreak, Williams wasn’t able to complete the game.
“I think if you play week to week or even every three weeks, every four weeks, there’s a little bit more toughness,” Williams said after the loss to Tan. “But with that being said, I felt like I played pretty well on some of them, not all of them. Maybe I definitely could have played some keys better. But you know, you have to think about it, if I play matches I wouldn’t miss some of those points or that match.”
On Monday, that match toughness seemed to be back. Williams, who is currently unranked and requires a wildcard to enter, proved she still belongs on the sport’s biggest stages. She fought for every point and refused to give in. It took her four set points to win the first set, but she eventually sealed it with a signature-style overhead smash.
— wta (@WTA) August 8, 2022
Williams was tested even more in the second set, which lasted 76 minutes. Parrizas-Diaz found her form and at times it looked like the match would go the distance. But Williams took control and stopped her opponent’s momentum in a wild eighth game of the set. With a score of 3-4, Williams secured four break points to eventually win the 18-minute game with nine twos – and then convincingly won the next two games for the win.
Williams, a three-time Canadian Open champion, will next play Tuesday’s winner Belinda Bencic–Teresa Martincova agree and potentially oppose each other Naomi Osaka in the third round. Osaka own a 3-1 record in their rivalry, including a win in the 2018 US Open final, but Williams won their only meeting in Toronto in the quarterfinals in 2019. Williams also reached the final in Canada at the US Open weeks later that year.
Is history repeating itself this year? It’s obviously impossible to predict how she will fare for the rest of this week and throughout the hard court season, but a win over a tough opponent is a promising start and should give her a much-needed confidence boost. Williams was broken just once in Monday’s game, saving seven out of eight break points on the day and hitting seven aces – proving her legendary serve remains a valuable weapon. She also managed to cope with changing weather conditions as well as a constantly adapting opponent over the net and appeared to do so with relative ease.
Though it feels like an eternity, Williams reached the semifinals at the 2021 Australian Open, her last hard-court major, and remains hungry to make one final push for the No. 24 Grand Slam title. She is scheduled to play in the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati next week as well as the US Open later this month.
But moments after the match, Williams appeared to be just taking it one day and one match at a time.
“It’s just a win, you know,” Williams said. “It takes a lot. But I was happy to have a win, it’s been a long time. I’ve forgotten how it feels.”