After taking an extra week to make sure her back was fully rested, Serena Williams returned to action in Dubai. While Williams was expected to be rusty, what wasn’t expected was the dramatic difference that one tiebreak made in the match.
Ekaterina Makarova of Russia was Williams’ opponent in the Monday night contest that marked the return of the World No. 1 after she lost in the fourth round of Melbourne last month. While other players at the event were having fun at the players party going on elsewhere, Williams and Makarova got down to business in their second round meeting. Makarova beat Williams a few years ago at the Australian Open in a match where Williams struggled against the lefty Russian. A similar test ensued in the opening games of the first set with Williams looking sluggish but still powerful enough to outhit her opponent when needed. Each woman traded breaks but Makarova looked sharper while Williams, unhappy with her form, often would scream in exasperation even after winning a point.
After surrendering a break thanks to multiple double faults (one that was caused by a foot fault), Williams fell behind 3-5 after Makarova held serve. That prompted Williams to destroy her racquet with three quick whacks on the court. If Williams hoped to get dialed in after that exhibition of racquet wreckage, it did the job. She held and then broke Makarova at love to level at 5-all.
Williams looked poised to run away with the set but Makarova wouldn’t let her. At 6-5, Makarova found herself serving down set point. A mistimed return from Williams sent the game back to deuce and eventually Makarova got out of trouble to force a tiebreak.
Williams again could have taken early control in the breaker but netted a sitter volley that would have given her 3-1. Instead, both stayed even until yet another double fault from Williams soon led to two set points for Makarova. Once again, Williams had to come up with something special and she did. A well-timed drop shot set up a forehand winner for Williams on the next point. And that caused yet another scream of agony mixed with ecstasy for the top seed. After leveling at 6-all, Williams hit a pinpoint backhand down the line winner and then leaned over as pleading with herself to get through this neverending trial. The crowd appreciated the extended tiebreak, but Williams looked ready for it to be over already.
It took several more set points for Williams, but finally a strong return on her fourth one secured the tense 7-6(8) first set.
The second set proved completely different. Looking more relaxed (or was it relieved?), Williams broke right away in the opening game. Williams broke Makarova again for a 3-0 lead and what looked very uncertain only a few minutes ago now was shaping up for yet another inevitable Williams victory.
Hitting the ball with more confidence and stepping into the middle of the court, Williams opened up a 5-0 lead. The final game proved trickier though as Williams, serving for it, found herself dragged to deuce by Makarova. The Russian saved one match point with a deep return, but Williams unwilling to drop a game, soon earned another match point. This time, a forehand error from Makarova sealed the ragged but entertaining 7-6(8), 6-0 win.
Dubai remains one of the few titles Williams has never won in her career despite several appearances over the years. Will the last minute entry prove a wise decision for Williams who admitted she was getting bored with just practicing a few weeks ago? One thing is for sure, Williams never gets bored with winning.