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May 15, 2019, 8:47:00 AM

Serena Williams gets first clay win in Rome

For the very best players, it is easy to take a long time off and make it look as if they have never been away. For Serena Williams, who holds the most Grand Slam titles of any active player, she knows the importance of managing her schedule effectively.

Just like Roger Federer, they are both 37, and they have reduced their commitments for the last few years to keep playing at their highest level in the major tournaments.

Since Williams returned from childbirth, it has almost looked like a masterstroke, but this has not turned out quite as perfectly as she hoped. She reached two Grand Slam finals last year and had she won both, she would have tied Margaret Court for winning the most major titles.

As it was, she lost both, with Naomi Osaka looking as if she would be the new player on the block to beat, winning the US and Australian Opens in succession over the last several months.

Her first competitive clay court match this season brought her up against Rebecca Peterson, a qualifier from Sweden, who couldn’t overcome the power and precision displayed by Williams in her 6-4, 6-2 win.

However, it is about to get harder from here, as Williams comes up against her sister Venus in the next round in Rome. This will be the first time they have faced off on a clay surface for almost 17 years, which shows how infrequently the Williams sisters are seen as stars on clay.

Venus made her way into the exciting next-round game with a gruelling 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (4) victory over Elise Mertens, which took over three hours to conclude. The Williams sisters have not been on opposite sides of the court since 1998 when it was only the second meeting between the pair.

Serena is up 18-12 against her sister in a glittering career for the pair, and they have accepted that their age and seedings mean they are more and more likely to face each other in the earlier rounds. Her absence from recent proceedings has been caused by a knee injury that forced her out of the Miami Open in the third round. She has only been in four tournaments this year and has not been able to complete two of those due to injury and illness.

Words: Danielle Nixon

Images: PA