Venus Williams won in her first singles match since August, dispatching Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-0, 6-3 at the Sony Ericsson Open on Wednesday.
She beamed wide, raised her arms in victory, then skipped to the net to shake’s Date-Krumm’s hand before twirling around and pumping her arms in a celebration worthy of winning the title, not just a first match.
But other than playing a meaningless doubles match during the United States’ Fed Cup first round victory over Belarus in early February, she hadn’t played an official match since the US Open first round.
The 31-year-old Williams withdrew from her second round match against Sabine Lisicki at the US Open after announcing she was diagnosed with the fatigue-causing, auto-immune disease known as Sjogren’s Syndrome.
"I mean, just to be in this tournament is a huge win for me. Just to be here is a win," Williams said. "You know, that’s what I told myself going in, that this is a win. I have nothing to lose. Just, you know, to gain. Just to get back at this level is a win for me."
Asked how she felt during and after the match, Williams said, "I feel like a person that has an autoimmune disease. You know, for me, I’m not going to probably feel like everybody else. But for me, my personal best is to give 100 percent"
Once a world No. 1 and a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, Williams is ranked No. 134. She’s hoping to be able to play steadily now and to make her third US Olympic team — she won gold in singles and doubles at the 2000 Sydney Games and a doubles gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Williams had five aces and 26 overall winners in the match while taking advantage of five of 10 break point opportunities.
In the first set, Williams lost only seven points on serve. She dropped her serve only once in the match, in the first game of the second set.
The unseeded Kim Clijsters, a former Sony Ericsson Open champion (2005 and 2010), came through a 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 first-rounder against Jarmila Gajdosova of Australia.
Clijsters, a four-time Grand Slam champion, is currently ranked No. 37.
This match was Clijsters’ first outing on court since she sustained a left ankle injury at the Australian Open. She lost in three sets to eventual champion Victoria Azarenka in the Australian Open semifinals.
"My ankle feels — it feels totally fine," Clijsters said. "I don’t worry about it anymore. I’m not able to play without the tape yet. I still need that support."
Clijsters clearly struggled to find her form at the outset of the match. She lost the first set to the No. 45 ranked Gajdosova after initially leading 3-1 in that opening set.
But once she found her groove, she dominated the final two sets, only losing one of 13 games played.
In the first set, Clijsters surrendered her serve on two of nine break points. In the second set, Clijsters saved all four break points she faced. And by the third set she never offered Gajdosova a break opportunity.
"When it comes down to my game I just felt like I wasn’t just quite going through my shots as well as I should have," Clijsters said. "As I started to feel more comfortable in the conditions and playing matches again, I felt like I was hitting through the ball better, and that showed in the second and third set."
Sandwiched between the Clijsters and Williams matches was one between two tour veterans that once ranked in the top 10: James Blake of the United States and Nikolay Davydenko of Russia.
The 32-year-old Blake opened strong and scored the first set win. But he wilted against the 30-year-old Davydenko who eventually won, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.