The Williams sisters confer during a practice session on the grass at Eastbourne (above).

Earlier today, defending Wimbledon champion Serena Williams, in her first action in more than 11 months, came from a set down to defeat Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in 2 hours and 4 minutes, in the first round of the AEGON Championships in Eastbourne, in East Sussex, UK.  On points, the match could barely have been closer, with Serena finishing with only 1 more point than Pironkova (80-79).  But Williams served bigger and better, finishing with 7 aces, two coming during a pivotal game at the business end of the 2nd set when Williams was down love thirty.

Serena follows her sister Venus into the 2nd around, who played her first match since being forced to retire in the 2nd round the Australian Open–the 1st and only time she has ever retired in a major.  For Venus, the opponent was the same–German Andrea Petkovic, who has benefited from the paucity of talent in the wake of the injuries to the Williams sisters and all of the other displaced talent in the women’s game.  Venus took the match, also in close fashion, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3.  Venus will face Ana Ivanovic in the 2nd round, whom she is 6-1 against lifetime, and 2-0 against on grass.  Ivanovic has only managed to take 3 sets of Williams in 7 matches, and she may never get a better opportunity to beat her then right now, before the grass court queen has regained her footing.  Ivanovic is coming off a semi-final showing in Birmingham, where she lost to Hantuchova.  The match marked the former French champ’s 1st semi-final of the year.

Venus’s half of the draw does look promising beyond Ivanovic as well.  She has a winning, lopsided record against most all, including a 10-0 record against Hantuchova, an 8-0 record against Schiavone, and a 5-1 record versus Radwanska.  The defending champ, Ekatarina Makarova is also in Venus’s half, as well as Kvitova and Li.  Surprisingly,Venus has yet to beat either.

As for Serena’s return rematch luck, she gets #1 seed Vera Zvonareva in the 2nd round, in a rematch of last year’s Wimbledon singles final.  The winner has a good likelihood of facing Pavlyuchenkova or Stosur in the quarters, and Azarenka or Bartoli in the semis.

The sisters are not entered in the doubles competition here at Eastbourne.  We’d take that as somewhat of a sign that they will only play singles next week at SW-19.  Neither sister has ever won here at Eastbourne, as usually, they don’t play much between Roland Garros and Wimbledon.  No American has won here since Chanda Rubin successfully defended her title in 2003, scoring back to back titles, 1st versus Myskina and then versus Conchita Martinez.

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