No fans, no problem as Serena wins on return

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Updated 12 August 2020

No fans, no problem as Serena wins on return

  • The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion looked to be flirting with an early exit in the second set

LOS ANGELES: Serena Williams shrugged off the absence of fans to make a winning return from her six-month coronavirus layoff on Tuesday, defeating lowly ranked Bernarda Pera in three sets at the WTA Top Seed Open tournament in Kentucky.

Williams, who before Tuesday had not played a competitive game since a Fed Cup appearance in February, came from behind to defeat American world No. 60 Pera 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and 15 minutes at the Top Seed Tennis Club in Lexington.

The former world No. 1’s first round victory played out to an empty arena. This week’s tournament — the first WTA event in the US since the COVID-19 pandemic — is taking place without spectators.

Williams, 38, later revealed that the sedate surroundings had suited her game.

“It was a really calm atmosphere, it was really chill,” Williams said.

“I can’t say I disliked it. I didn’t mind it at all. I’ve been through so many things in my career and this was totally different. I think I won today because I was calm for once in my career.

“Kind of reminds me of junior days. Something nostalgic about that. I kind of enjoyed it.”

The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion looked to be flirting with an early exit in the second set, but recovered from 0-40 down at 4-4 before holding and eventually winning the set.

“I just knew I could do better,” Williams said. “It was an interesting game. I just had to get used to her game a little bit. She played really well.”

Williams will now play either sister Venus or Victoria Azarenka in the second round.

Pera had seized an early advantage in the first set, breaking Williams to take a 3-2 lead before holding for the remainder of the set to win 6-4.

Williams was soon in trouble on her service game in the second set, falling 0-40 in the opening game before battling back to hold.

Williams moved into a 3-1 lead with a break of Pera’s serve in the fourth game, but her Croatia-born opponent hit back immediately with a break of her own before holding to level at 3-3.

With the next two games going to serve, Williams looked to be in trouble after falling 0-40 down in the ninth game. But she dug deep to hold for a 5-4 lead and then broke for the set when Pera sent a forehand return wide.

The momentum spilled into the deciding set, and another misdirected forehand from Pera handed Williams a break to move into a 3-1 lead.

Another break took her into a 5-1 lead and she closed out the win by holding to love, wrapping up victory with a cross-court forehand that left Pera stranded.

This week’s WTA tournament is the first to be staged in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the tennis season earlier this year.


'World class' Vardy rocks Arsenal as Leicester go fourth

Updated 26 October 2020

'World class' Vardy rocks Arsenal as Leicester go fourth

  • Vardy was only fit enough for the bench after a calf injury, but Rodgers sent the striker on with 30 minutes left

LONDON: Brendan Rodgers saluted "world class" Jamie Vardy after he sealed Leicester's late 1-0 win as spluttering Arsenal crashed to a third defeat in their last four Premier League games on Sunday.
Vardy was only fit enough for the bench after a calf injury, but Rodgers sent the striker on with 30 minutes left. Vardy responded with his sixth goal of the season.
The 33-year-old has made a habit of tormenting Arsenal and has now scored 11 goals in 12 Premier League games against them.
"Our plan was always to bring Jamie Vardy into the game and he can stretch it. That is why he is a big player," Rodgers said after Leicester's first win at Arsenal since 1973.
"He makes the big contributions in the big games. That shows you the level he is at and he is a world class player. I'm lucky to have him."
Leicester climbed to fourth after ending a run of two successive league defeats.
"We deserved it, we played against a really good side and have players who can run in behind," Rodgers said.
"To keep a clean sheet and play with the quality and calmness was good."
Arsenal are languishing in 10th after a second consecutive league loss following their 1-0 defeat at Manchester City last weekend.
As well as the disallowed goal, Gunners boss Mikel Arteta was disappointed by his team's lack of cutting edge.
"I'm really disappointed, we had it in our hands in the first half and I don't know how the hell Lacazette's goal was disallowed," Arteta said.
"They caught us with space at the back and in that moment we lost the game.
"It is difficult to create spaces with 10 men behind the ball, but we should have finished the game better. When it comes to those moments you can't give away chances at the back.
"We still had some moments after the goal but gave away too many free kicks. It's not an easy thing to do but we have to improve."
The principle problem is a sudden dip in form for captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Gabon forward is without a goal in his last five league games -- his worst drought since 2014, although he did net against Rapid Vienna in the Europa League on Thursday.
Aubameyang has scored just once in the league this season, hardly the kind of form Arteta would have hoped for after handing the striker a lucrative new contract in September.
Arsenal's ability to challenge for a top four place rests on Aubameyang leading the charge. So far this term he has been a flop.
Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno was at fault for the goal his side conceded in Vienna and the German nearly gifted Leicester the lead inside the first two minutes.
Leno came dashing way off his line but his attempted clearance went straight to James Maddison. The midfielder's 40-yard effort floated just wide.
Alexandre Lacazette headed in from an Arsenal corner moments later, but the goal was disallowed for offside against Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal were on top and Bukayo Saka's strike forced a good save from Kasper Schmeichel before Aubameyang headed over from Kieran Tierney's cross.
Lacazette should have done better with a good chance from another Tierney cross before Saka shot into the side-netting.
Arsenal suffered a blow when David Luiz limped off early in the second half.
Arteta sent on Nicolas Pepe midway through the half in a bid to perk Arsenal up.
Bellerin brought a good save from Schmeichel when he met Aubameyang's cross with a powerful volley.
But Arsenal were hit with a sucker punch in the 80th minute.
Youri Tielemans' ball over the top for Cengiz Under was perfectly weighted and the Turk squared across goal for Vardy to head into the empty net.