SERENA WILLIAMS has refused to reveal if this will be her swansong year on the WTA Tour but the American did fear she may never return to tennis again.
The veteran made a triumphant return to professional sport tonight following a jaunty and entertaining doubles match on the south coast.
The 40-year-old and new partner Ons Jabeur overcame the Czech-Spanish pairing of Marie Bouzkova and Sara Sorribes Tormo 2-6 6-3 13-11 in the first round of the Eastbourne International.
It is almost a year since she tore her hamstring on Wimbledon Centre Court after slipping on the wet grass and walking off in tears.
During that long hiatus off court, Williams admits there were concerns that her illustrious career, which has seen her win 23 singles slams, could be at an end.
Skilfully, she brushed off questions about her immediate future, refusing to confirm if an appearance at Wimbledon next week will be for the last occasion.
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Williams said: “I’m literally taking it one day at a time. I really took my time with my hamstring injury so I’m just not making a ton of decisions after this.
“I love tennis and I love playing or else I wouldn’t be out here, right? But I also love what I do off the court.
“I would be dishonest if I said there wasn’t any doubts (about playing again).
“Now my body feels great. It’s doubles, I’m only playing half of the court. But I’ve been doing a lot of training and so it definitely feels good.
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“After I couldn’t play (the US Open at) New York, I just went cold turkey of not working out and it felt good.
“I always try to stay semi-fit because you never know when you’re going to enter Wimbledon.”
The Williams-Jabeur partnership, which was first discussed before the French Open, took time to warm up, they were often getting in each other’s way and they surrendered the first set too easily.
But as the match progressed on the longest day of the year, Williams rediscovered her power, Jabeur found her touch, and they eventually came from behind to make round two.
Williams, wearing sinus strips on her face to aid her breathing, sealed the second set with a 102mph ace that was a glimpse of her past prowess.
They prevailed on the third match point in the third-set tie-break but there was an edgy moment when they had to survive one match point against them.
A day’s rest has been earned as the quarter-final against Japan’s Shuko Aoyama and Taiwan’s Chan Hao-ching will be on Thursday.
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Tunisian world No3 Jabeur, 27, said: “It was an honour she picked me, I couldn’t believe it. I was having dinner when she called. It was crazy.
“It was so much fun, I was nervous before playing with such a legend, she made me good on the court, even when I made mistakes she kept encouraging me.”