Serena wins in Wimbledon return

Serena Williams hits a return to Aravane Rezai during Wimbledon action in London on Tuesday, June...

Serena Williams hits a return to Aravane Rezai during Wimbledon action in London on Tuesday, June 21, 2011. (REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth)

SPORTS NETWORK

, Last Updated: 8:25 PM ET

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND - Four-time champion Serena Williams made a triumphant return to Wimbledon with a three-set opening-round victory Tuesday at the All England Club. Current world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and former champion Maria Sharapova joined Williams in the round of 64.

The seventh-seeded Williams got past France's Aravane Rezai 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 on the famed Centre Court. The powerful American took control in the third set with her big serve and powerful groundstrokes. She needed 1 hour, 36 minutes to advance, which she did with the help of 13 aces and four service breaks.

An emotional Williams started crying tears of joy as soon as the match ended -- with one final ace.

"I usually don't cry...but it's just been so hard," Williams said. "I never dreamt I would be here right now. And then to win. I just wanted to win at least one match here."

The former world No. 1 superstar returned to tennis for the first time in 11 months last week in Eastbourne, where she won a match before losing in the second round against Russian Vera Zvonareva, who lost to Williams in last year's Wimbledon finale. The 13-time Grand Slam champion Williams was sidelined by a series of health issues after capturing a second straight Wimbledon title last July.

The 29-year-old Williams severed two tendons in her right foot that wound up requiring a pair of surgeries after she stepped on some glass at a German restaurant almost a year ago. And then in February of this year, she underwent emergency treatment for a hematoma as a result of a pulmonary embolism -- a blood clot in her lungs -- which Williams said could have ended her career.

"It's been a disaster year, but I've been praying," Williams said. "To be able to come back at Wimbledon is pretty awesome. I didn't expect to play. And I didn't expect to even do anything. So I'm just excited. I've never cried with joy for anything."

Williams is now a perfect 44-0 in her career first-round Grand Slam matches, and Tuesday marked her 200th match victory at a major. Her second-round opponent will be rising Romanian Simona Halep.

Serena and her older sister Venus have combined to win nine of the last 11 Wimbledon titles.

Wozniacki, meanwhile, waltzed past Spaniard Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-2, 6-1, as the steady Dane is still in search of her first-ever major title.

Up next for the former U.S. Open runner-up Wozniacki will be France's Virginie Razzano.

A fifth-seeded Sharapova waltzed past former top-10 star and fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze 6-2, 6-1 in a routine 68-minute affair on Centre Court.

Sharapova is a three-time major champ, including a Wimbledon title here in 2004 when she stunned Serena in the final as a 17-year-old.

Third-seeded French Open champion Li Na improved to 14-1 in Grand Slams this year with a 6-3, 6-3 pasting of Russian Alla Kudryavtseva.

At January's Australian Open, Li became the first-ever Chinese player, male or female, to reach a Grand Slam final, losing to Kim Clijsters. And three weeks ago in Paris, Li became the first-ever Chinese player to capture a major title by beating 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone in the French Open finale.

Fourth-seeded Belarusian slugger Victoria Azarenka advanced after playing only one point on Tuesday.

Azarenka was leading Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4, 3-2 when rain halted play here on Monday. When the two players returned to the court on Day 2, Rybarikova injured her left knee while doing a split at the back of the court and retired immediately.

The 20-year-old Azarenka has been one of the hotter players on the WTA this season, having reached three finals, including a pair of titles. She was the big winner at the so-called "Fifth Slam" in Miami back in April.

Azarenka will face Czech veteran Iveta Benesova in the second round.

Meanwhile, eighth-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova, a semifinalist last year at the All England Club and the runner-up at the Wimbledon tuneup in Eastbourne last week, needed just 55 minutes to dispose of American Alexa Glatch 6-2, 6-2; ninth-seeded 2007 Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli of France blitzed Czech Kristyna Pliskova 6-0, 6-2; 11th-seeded rising German Andrea Petkovic advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 triumph over France's Stephanie Foretz Gacon; and Hungarian Melinda Czink ousted 10th-seeded Aussie Samantha Stosur 6-3, 6-4. Bartoli is fresh off her title in Eastbourne, where she upended Kvitova in the final. The 2010 French Open finalist Stosur is now 5-9 lifetime at Wimbledon, including five first-round losses.

In other action involving top-16 seeds, No. 14 Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova earned a 6-4, 7-6 (7-1) win over Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko, unseeded Spaniard Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez upended No. 15 Jelena Jankovic 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, and No. 18 Ana Ivanovic dismantled American Melanie Oudin 6-0, 6-1. The Serbian Jankovic is a former world No. 1 and former U.S. Open runner-up who has never advanced beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon. The Serbian Ivanovic is also a former world No. 1 and a former French Open champ.

Additional seeded winners were No. 20 Chinese Peng Shuai, No. 25 Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova, No. 26 Russian Maria Kirilenko, No. 29 Italian Roberta Vinci, No. 31 Czech Lucie Safarova, and No. 32 Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova. Vinci is fresh off her grass court title in the Netherlands. Pironkova was a surprise Wimbledon semifinalist last year.

Several other women posted first-round wins, including Brits Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha, Canadian Rebecca Marino and former top-10 Russian Nadia Petrova.

Thirty-six of the 50 scheduled opening-round matches were completed on Tuesday after rain wreaked havoc on the schedule here on Monday. Fourteen opening- round matches are on the Wednesday schedule.

The second round will commence Wednesday, including matches for a second- seeded Zvonareva, Azarenka, a sixth-seeded Schiavone, the aforementioned Kvitova and a 23rd-seeded Venus. The 2010 Wimbledon and U.S. Open runner-up Zvonareva will take on fellow Russian Elena Vesnina.

The five-time Wimbledon champion and three-time runner-up Venus will battle ageless 40-year-old Japanese Kimiko Date-Krumm. The 31-year-old former No. 1 Venus is a seven-time Grand Slam champion overall and appearing in only her third tournament of the year after being sidelined by hip and abdominal injuries since January.


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