World no. 9 and the top seed Serena Williams made a winning start at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, beating Bernarda Pera 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and 16 minutes. It was the first match since February for the 23-time Major champion, who had spent the past five months with her family at home, avoiding contacts and following all the safety measures during the coronavirus outbreak.
As was expected, Williams needed some time to find her strokes against a solid rival who barely did anything wrong in the opening two sets. Still, the more experienced player proved her quality in the decisive moments, erasing four break points at 4-4 in set number two and never looking back to set the second-round clash against her sister Venus.
Serena fended off 11 out of 13 break chances, stealing Pera's serve four times to find herself over the top. Williams squandered all three break points in the opening set, getting broken once to propel Bernarda in front.
In the fourth game, the Croat native held after two deuces and gained momentum, overpowering Serena to score a break at love and move 3-2 ahead. Serving to confirm the advantage, Pera fended off two break chances with powerful serves, fending off another one in the eighth game and sealing the opener with a forehand down the line winner at 5-4.
Both players claimed 39 points in set number two, with Serena coming from the verge of defeat to steal it 6-4. The 23-time Major champion erased nine out of ten break chances offered to Bernarda to remain in contention, producing best tennis when it mattered the most and claiming the set with a late break at 5-4 to prolong the action.
Williams repelled four breaks points in games one and three, stealing Pera's serve in the fourth and losing the advantage in the next one to keep the younger American on the positive side of the scoreboard.
Serena Williams struggled a bit in three-set triumph over Bernarda Pera.
Facing that ultimate challenge at 4-4, Serena saved no less than four break chances, having no room for errors and passing all the obstacles to bring the game hold and stay alive.
As was expected, Williams gathered massive boost from there, securing a break a few minutes later to take the set 6-4 and force a decider. The more experienced player had the upper hand in the final set, dropping seven points in four service games and repelling both break chances offered to Pera, forcing the compatriot to repeat that if she wanted to chase the win.
Bernarda couldn't match that pace, spraying a forehand error in the fourth game to suffer a break and wasting more opportunities on the return in the next one to push Williams further in front. Serena scored another break at 4-1 and moved over the top with a hold at love for the first victory in six months.
"It was a really calm and chill atmosphere; I can't say I disliked it. It was different; I've been through so many things in my career. I think I won today because I was calm for once, so that was really helpful.
I haven't played, even those smaller exhibitions like a lot of other players; I've only been training, so I was missing shots, but getting back into the swing of things at the same time. I just knew I needed to do better.
I knew I could, and she hit so many winners, low to the court. I had to get used to her game a bit because she played really well. I didn't know how I was going to feel or how I was going to do, but I really didn't hate the atmosphere.
Being in New York will be a little different because of the massive stadium, but the solo court kind of reminds me of my junior days, so there was something kind of nostalgic about that. I was pleased with how competitive I was out there, staying in the moment and not getting down on myself.
I don't know how much I need to work on, because I'm playing unbelievably in practice! I know I'm going to get better with each match, and I'm ok with that because today was nothing compared to how I'm practicing. I just need more rhythm, more time to be out there playing the match," Serena Williams said.