Rome: Serena Williams will take on sister Venus in the second round of the Italian Open tennis tournament more than two decades after they last met on the red clay of Rome after both advanced in different styles.
Four-time winner here, Serena, 37, returned after two months out injured easing through 6-4, 6-2 against Swedish qualifier Rebecca Petersen.
But 38-year-old Venus, whose only Rome title came back in 1999, needed over three hours to battle past Belgian Elise Mertens 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7/4).
Serena has not played since a hard-fought three-set win also over Petersen in the second round at the Miami Open in March before withdrawing with a knee injury.
The 23-time Grand Slam winner – now ranked 11th – also withdrew from Indian Wells in March complaining of illness.
Watched by her husband Alexis Ohanian, Serena sealed victory on her second match point against her 64th-ranked opponent after 76 minutes on court.
“I felt good, I wasn’t sure how it was going to feel,” said Serena. “It’s been a while, I haven’t played a ton of matches this year, not by choice, just by force. I really, really, actually desperately wanted to be on the tour and to be playing, but it hasn’t worked out so far. It felt good to finally be back out.”
Despite her lack of practice, 10th-seeded Williams was never threatened by Peterson, despite 22 unforced errors by the American in the first set.
Serena also stated that in her spare time in the city she has been enjoying sharing her favourite sites with her daughter Olimpia who turns two in September.
“It’s really fun because I took her to the Colosseum, then I took her to the (Trevi) fountain,” Serena said. “It was really cool to share my favourite city with her, some of my favourite things to see.”
It will be another family affair on the courts of the Foro Italico, when she plays Venus, with the sisters last meeting in 1998, 21 years ago.
“We play each other a lot. It seems like every tournament nowadays we meet early. Yeah, it is what it is. We’ll see,” said Serena.
“We’re just as fierce on court as we were 21 years ago. Venus is just as fierce. We both really want to get some match play. We’ll both do the best that we can,” warned Serena, who leads 18-12, the most recent win at last year’s US Open.
Venus, meanwhile, came out on top of a tight contest that went all the way to a third-set tie-break despite letting the Belgian back in by missing six match points on her serve.