Serena Williams can start boning up on her first official tour opponent in over a year, after the draw for Indian Wells revealed that she will take on Zarina Dyas – the world No. 53 – at the end of the week.
This is far more than just another tournament for Williams. Not only has she gone 13 months since her last official appearance – which came at the 2017 Australian Open – but she suffered life-threatening complications after the birth of her first child, Alexis Ohanian, in September.
On Monday night, Williams spoke to the BBC in New York, where she was participating in the Tie Break Tens exhibition tournament. While sounding uncertain about her level of readiness for the fray, she also emphasised that her comeback has to start somewhere.
"If I'm not ready now, I'm just never going to be ready,” said Williams. "I feel in two months I'll be way better than I am now, but you have to start somewhere. I don't want to keep sitting on the sidelines and thinking about it.”
Williams made a respectable showing at Tie Break Tens, edging past another woman who is building towards a comeback – Marion Bartoli – in the first round before going out to Zhang Shuai of China in a hard-fought semi-final. Yet she only played 40 points in the whole evening, whereas most sets last around 60 points.
Even getting to this stage represents an achievement, as Williams’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou pointed out on Monday. “Now she is 36, just had a child, a second blood clot, has gone more than a year without any competition,” said Mouratoglou. “I think we can say without a doubt that this [comeback] is her biggest challenge."
In the BBC interview, Williams admitted that she had sometimes come close to abandoning the whole project. "It's been hard," she said. "There have been so many days, even still, when I'm like, 'How am I going to keep going?'
"It's been really, really difficult but I keep going and I know that I might not be at my best yet, but I'm getting there and every day is a new day and every day I should be getting better. As long as I'm moving forward, even if it's at a turtle's pace, then I'm OK with that."
The draw for Indian Wells, the biggest hard-court tournament of the spring, also landed British No. 2 Heather Watson with an intriguing opening match against Victoria Azarenka – the two-time Australian Open champion whose custody battle over her young son Leo has kept her off the tour since Wimbledon.
British No. 1 Johanna Konta will receive a first-round bye, by virtue of her status as the 11th seed, followed by a meeting with either Marketa Vondrousova or a qualifier.