Serena Williams made her triumphant return to the Women’s Tennis Association Tour on Thursday, winning the first set in her comeback after a 14-month break for the birth of her first child.
The 36-year-old tennis star and new mom has been steadily making her way back to pro competition in the months since welcoming daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr. in September.
Her first single match at the Indian Wells BNP Paribas Open in California on Thursday was against Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, Williams defeating her rival 7-5, 6-3 in round one, ESPN reported.
“It was incredible,” Williams said after the 1½-hour match, the Associated Press reported. “It’s been over a year and a kid later and I get to go home to her now, and I’m excited about that. … It definitely wasn’t easy. We always have a couple tight sets. It was good. I’m a little rusty, but it doesn’t matter. I’m just out here on this journey and doing the best I can.”
The 23-time Grand Slam was cheered on in the stands by her family including mother Oracene, sisters Lyndrea and Isha, and older sister Venus, the AP reported.
Williams’ husband and Reddit co-found Alexis Ohanian was there too, the AP reported.
Prior to the match, he had bought four billboards in Palm Springs in tribute to his wife — all featuring Williams and baby Olympia with the phrase ”G.M.O.A.T” [GREATEST MOMMA OF ALL TIME]” written in succession on them.
“Thank you guys for coming out,” Williams said after her victory, The New York Times reported. “It was incredible. You know, it’s been over a year and a kid later, and I get to go home now to her, so I’m excited about that.”
She’ll be back on the court again on Saturday, playing No. 29 seed Kiki Bertens.
On Wednesday, Williams posted an Instagram video of herself looking excited about her return while also showing off the Serena gold-toned “S” pin she designed for fans to support her and raise money for the Yetunde Price Resource Center, which assists those affected by gun violence and is named in honor of her slain sister.
“It’s official,” Williams captioned the video. “My comeback is here.”
She also noted that her return falls on International Women’s Day, declaring that “my comeback could not have come on a better day.”
In January, Williams was supposed to return to the Australian Open —which she won last year when she was about eight weeks pregnant — but eventually withdrew from the competition in September after playing (and losing) her first post-maternity match.
“After performing in my first match after giving birth I realized that although I am super close I’m not where I personally want to be,” Williams wrote on Snapchat, referencing her Dec. 30 defeat. “My coach and team always said ‘Only go to tournaments when you are prepared to go all the way.’ With that being said I am disappointed to say I’ve decided not to compete in The Australian Open this year.”
“However, the memory of last year’s Open is one that I will carry with me and Olympia and I look forward to coming back again. I appreciate the support and understanding of my fans and everyone at the Australian Open,” she concluded.
Williams’ friend Caroline Wozniacki went on to win won the Australian Open and became the new world No. 1.
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Williams then stepped back into tour-level tennis in February as part of the United States Fed Cup team, playing doubles matches with Venus in the Asheville, North Carolina-competition while Williams’ husband and daughter were cheering her on from the stands.
That same month, Olympia got a tennis racquet of her very own. Williams shared a shot of her daughter holding a tiny Wilson tennis racquet. (The 23-time Grand Slam champion’s roster of sponsors includes Wilson Sporting Goods Co.)
“Olympia Ohanian, at match point, championship point, even without her shoes she’s hard to beat,” the mother of one captioned the picture of her infant, predicting the tot’s tennis future. “Serving now For her 12th Wimbledon title. 3 more than her mum Serena. @wilsontennis @olympiaohanian.”
The photo also marks little Olympia’s first tennis-themed photo on social media since her Sept. 1 birth.