WIMBLEDON, England — The 352 days Serena Williams lived through between Grand Slam appearances were filled with health problems and hospitalizations, doubts and depression.
Cuts from glass on both feet. One subsequent operation on her right foot, then a second. Clots in her lungs. Surgery to remove a pool of blood under her skin. On and on it went.
Finally healthy, and finally back at a major tournament, Williams was simply overwhelmed by it all at the conclusion of her match at Wimbledon on Tuesday. As soon as she snapped off her 13th ace of the afternoon to close an uneven performance in a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Aravane Rezai of France in the first round, Williams placed her right palm on her chest. Her eyes welled with tears.
By the time she walked to the net to shake hands with Rezai, Williams was crying. She sat in her sideline chair, covered her face with a tournament towel and sobbed. And she kept right on bawling through a postmatch TV interview with the BBC.
"It definitely was so emotional for me because, you know, throughout the last 12 months, I've been through a lot of things that's not normal; things you guys don't even know about," the 29-year-old American said at her news conference. "So it's just been a long, arduous road. To stand up, still, is pretty awesome."
A first-round win at a Grand Slam tournament is not exactly the sort of achievement Williams normally would celebrate: Her career mark in such matches is now 44-0, after all. But she'd never before been away from her sport for such an extended time — and, more to the point, she'd never before been through such a series of scares. Williams got the "all clear" from her doctor about 2 1/2 months ago, only began practicing at full speed about one month ago, and played her first match anywhere since July at a grass-court tournament in Eastbourne last week.
Williams wasn't quite ready to pronounce herself the player to beat at Wimbledon, where she has won four of her 13 Grand Slam singles championships, including each of the past two years.
The day's later matches on Centre Court included straight-set victories for Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova.
Not really bothered by swirling wind he called "tricky," six-time Wimbledon champion Federer won 68 of 80 points on his serve — including 29 of 31 in the first set — while beating Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-2. Djokovic, playing for the first time since his 43-match winning streak was ended by Federer in the French Open semifinals, dropped only 11 points on serve and eliminated Jeremy Chardy of France 6-4, 6-1, 6-1. Andy Roddick, a three-time runner-up at the All England Club, served quite well, too, pounding 30 aces to defeat qualifier Andreas Beck of Germany 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-3.