Williams return is a blessing for WTA chief

London: The Serena and Venus show got back on the road at Eastbourne this week and no one was more pleased to see the Williams sisters return to action than WTA chief executive Stacey Allaster.

The WTA has been robbed of its two most high-profile performers this year with 13-times grand slam champion Serena suffering serious health problems and Venus sidelined with a hip injury.

Venus, who has seven grand slam singles crowns, including five at Wimbledon, returned with a first round victory over Andrea Petkovic on Monday and Serena followed on Tuesday with a rusty three-set win against Tsvetana Pironkova.

It would not be a surprise, Allaster said, if one of them were to win the Wimbledon title in less than three weeks time.

"It`s fantastic for fans to have Serena and Venus back on the courts," Allaster told Reuters at Devonshire Park where 13 of the top 20 women players are taking part in the traditional Wimbledon warm-up, including French Open champion Li Na.

"Serena is one of the all-time greats and she brings a fantastic energy, fun on the court. She`s a great champion and a great entertainer."

Asked whether Serena could retain her title and draw level with Venus, Allaster was in no doubt.

"What we know about Serena is that she is a fierce competitor and she wants to win," Allaster said.

"She wouldn`t put herself out there if she thought she couldn`t win the title again.

"I`m sure she`s done the physical preparation and, let`s be honest, they have each other to practise with. That`s not a bad way to prepare and get some form.

"They may not have had many matches but they have their teams around them and we are talking about two of the finest players the sport has ever seen.

While Venus always planned to play at Eastbourne, Serena was given a surprise wildcard after recovering from a gashed foot that almost severed a tendon last July and then, more worryingly, the pulmonary embolism the 29-year-old said could have ended her life.

Allaster has constantly defended the depth of the women`s game in the absence of the sisters but admitted they have set the standards that others must follow.

"Each generation takes the sport to another level and there is no question that Serena and Venus have added the Williams touch to the sport, be it the power, the strength, the physical fitness and the mental toughness," she said.

There were times over the past few months when it seemed Serena may never return.

"It was a scary time," Allaster said. "I knew she was working through the tendon issue and that she would have to give her body time, but the embolism was a whole new ball game.

"Thankfully she has a good medical team and she has listened to her body and the experts. We are all lucky that she is back on the tennis court where she belongs."

Bureau Report

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