'It was so great, we had a lot of fun': Serena Williams thrilled to make tennis return at Eastbourne

The 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams made a triumphant return to tennis on the lush courts of Eastbourne's Devonshire Park - then beamed: We had a lot of fun.

Williams was the centre of attention from the moment she arrived to play in the doubles and after a nail-biting victory alongside her partner Ons Jabeur, she said she was delighted to be there and happy with her comeback match - ahead of her visit to Wimbledon next week.

Williams and Jabeur defeated Marie Bouzkova (CZE) and Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) 2-6 6-3 13-11 in a thrilling match tie-break. Williams and Jabeur dropped the opening set, yet came roaring back to force a champions tie-break. Both teams traded match points, until Jabeur converted their third to win.

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Serena Williams enjoying her return to tennis at Eastbourne / Picture: Getty

Williams said: “It was so great; we had a lot of fun. I called her [to play], she’s playing so well and she’s always been so nice on tour. It’s been a while but it was good to feel the court again.”

Jabeur added: “When she called, I couldn’t believe it. I was a little bit nervous coming out before, but she made me believe. I’m really happy that we played together.”

Elsewhere on Tuesday Katie Boulter’s dream grass-court swing continued as she toppled the world No.7 Karolina Pliskova in three sets 1-6 6-4 6-4. The British player has shattered her best win by ranking, previously set last week at the Rothesay Classic Birmingham when she defeated world No.35 to book a place in the last-16.

In her maiden Eastbourne appearance, Boulter has beaten the two-time Rothesay International champion and added a seventh top-100 victory. The 2021 Wimbledon runner-up had won the opening five games of the contest, yet the Leicestershire native battled back to reach her second-ever WTA 500 third round.

Boulter said: "“It’s something I’ve been waiting for, my first top 10 win. It means a lot because I’ve worked so hard over many, many years and to actually get some reward back for it feels great. I’ve got a lot more to do and a lot more to work on but it’s a start and it’s hopefully going to continue. I want to be there week in week out and If I am I’ll progress my ranking quicker and better.”

There was also a great win for Surrey’s Jodie Burrage as she upset world No.4 Paula Badosa (ESP) in straight sets as she claimed the biggest win of her career, 24 hours after her previous best. Prior to this season's grass-court swing, Burrage’s career-best win by ranking was world No.171 - beating that record six times in three weeks. Despite playing seven matches in seven days, Burrage stormed her past the No.1 seed and completed the job after one hour and 13 minutes.

Burrage said: “I’m not sure I have the words to describe how I feel right now. I’m over the moon with that win, how I played and handled myself on court. This might take I while to sink in. The last few weeks have been amazing. I had loads of opportunities thanks to the LTA to play these events and I’m loving every minute of it.”

The British success continued in the ATP 250 event, as Ryan Peniston (GBR) captured the spotlight again after he defeated the No.8 seed Holger Rune (DEN) on Centre Court as he rallied from a set down to win 4-6 7-6(5) 6-1.

The world No.28 was three points away from his first tour-level grass-court victory, but the man from Essex fought back to earn the second-best ranking scalp of his career. The win comes a week after Peniston made his ATP tour-level debut at Queens where he defeated world No.5 Casper Ruud (NOR). All of his top five wins, by ranking, have come this grass-court season on British turf.

Peniston said: “Really happy with it. To back up a couple of wins last week feels really good. I’m happy with how I fought even though after losing the first set, managing to pull through at the end was good. It’s been madness to be honest. A couple of weeks ago it was a lot different.”

Warwickshire’s Dan Evans returned to winning ways on Eastbourne soil as he defeated Adrian Mannarino in straight sets 6-4 6-3. The British No.2 claimed the Rothesay Open Nottingham challenger title at the beginning of the grass-court swing and has lost one of his seven matches on the surface - dropping just two sets. The Frenchman reached the semi-finals at ’s-Hertogenbosch two weeks ago and won the title there in 2019. Yet, Evans remained unphased and will face American Maxime Cressy in the second round.

Evans said: “It was a tough match. Not an enjoyable one, he is pretty tricky. I’m just delighted to come through and another match on the grass before Wimbledon. It was clinical performance; I took my chances when I got them. It was a frustrating week last week, so I’m happier today."