Serena Williams was beaten in her first match since childbirth but performed well enough to suggest she can be very competitive in 2018.
Four months after giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia and less than a month after returning to proper training, the 23-time Grand Slam champion took on last year’s French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko in an exhibition clash in Abu Dhabi.
World No 7 Ostapenko ultimately came out on top, winning 6-2 3-6 10-5, but Williams looked in good shape, although she has not yet decided whether she will defend her Australia Open title next month.
The American was unsurprisingly rusty in the early stages, moving slowly and having her typically-fearsome serve treated with disdain by her Latvian opponent, who powered into a 4-1 lead.
Ostapenko went on to take the first set, but the level of play began to rise significantly and a far-more sprightly Williams then broke twice for a 3-0 lead in set two.
She clinched the set when she showed off fine athleticism to reach a drop shot which caught the top of the net, but then fell short in the decisive match tie-break, too many errors allowing Ostapenko to clinch victory.
Williams said after the match: “Motherhood is phenomenal.
“I was a little worried out there – I looked at my camp and asked ‘is Olympia okay?’
“But it’s really good. I’m excited. It’s good to be back on court, this is such a good time for me.
“First matches back are always super incredibly hard, especially after having a baby, but it was great.”
Williams won the Australian Open while nine weeks pregnant last year but she has not yet committed to defending her title, with the Melbourne event set to start in a little over two weeks.
“I don’t know if I am totally ready to come back on the Tour yet,” she said.
“I know that, when I come back, I definitely want to be competing for championships.
“I don’t know, but I am definitely looking forward to getting back out there.
“I am taking it one day at a time. I am going to assess everything with Patrick [Mouratoglou, her coach] and my team.”