EASTBOURNE, United Kingdom — Serena Williams hit the wall in her career comeback at Eastbourne on Wednesday after only one victory, with top seed Vera Zvonareva sending the American back to the practice courts.
The Russian's 3-6, 7-6 (7/5), 7-5 three-hour triumph was revenge for the Wimbledon final a year ago won by Williams, now ranked 26th after nearly a year out of the game.
Williams was appearing at Eastbourne for the first time after two operations on a foot she cut after last year's Wimbledon followed by further surgery in February to remove blood clots from her lungs.
"It was a good two matches for me," said Williams. "I couldn't be happier with the amount of tennis that I've played.
"I haven't played in almost a year, so I'm a little sore. Grass always gets you a little sore. It's good I'm sore now, because hopefully next week I won't be as sore."
Zvonareva lost to the American in the last match Williams played prior to this week, the All England Club final nearly 50 weeks ago.
"It was definitely tough," said Zvonareva, also a US Open finalist last autumn.
"Serena is such a champion. She's making an unbelievable comeback. We had a battle out there."
Williams served for a straight sets victory leading 5-4 in the second set, only to concede the game on a double-fault.
Zvonareva suddenly found a new lease of life, with the Russian showing mental strength in a see-saw contest as Williams struggled in saving 15 of 21 break points and producing seven double-faults.
After squaring the match, Zvonareva, who held a 5-2 lead at one point, was unable to convert three match points in the 10th game of the third set, dropping serve for 5-5.
But the relieved Russian broke again a game later and finally served out the victory.
"I was trying my best, everything was tough. I'm happy with how I played and I'm very happy to get this win," said Zvonareva.
Williams was pleased with her performance.
"One or two points, I could have won the match," she said. "I think that's just me not playing and not actually even holding a racquet for over eight months and then finally picking one up and being able to do that.
"So it's not overly disappointing."
Venus Williams, 33rd and coming back after missing five months with an abdominal injury, managed an easy win, advancing to the quarter-finals with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Ana Ivanovic.
"I feel I'm playing very tough, playing well on big points," said Venus, who last competed at the tournament 13 years ago.
"I just need to continue. These matches have been huge and crucial for me to just get back literally into the swing of things. I'm focusing on all the positives, and I think there's a lot of them.
"Taking the amount of time off (five months) I have taken, it's so important to focus on those positives."
Slovak Daniela Hantuchova knocked out French Open champion Li Na 7-6 (9/7), 6-3, while third seed Victoria Azarenka eliminated Elena Baltacha 6-1, 7-6 (7/0).
Czech fifth seed Petra Kvitova defeated holder Ekaterina Makarova 7-6 (10/8), 7-6 (7/4), and Australian Samantha Stosur, the number seven seed, beat young Serb Bojana Jovanovski 6-3, 6-2.
In the men's draw, Czech Radek Stepanek upset weary top seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2, 6-3.
The Frenchman was playing for a third straight day after losing a delayed Monday final at Queen's Club and hurrying south to Eastbourne for an opening match here on Tuesday.
Julien Benneteau earned a French win as he defeated Indian Somdev Devvarman 7-6 (7/1), 6-7 (6/8), 6-3, with Bulgarian Gregor Dimitrov upsetting South African sixth seed Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-2.
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