Serena Williams makes her comeback to the court at Eastbourne for a doubles competition, almost a year after her injury-forced exit from Wimbledon

Serena Williams makes her comeback to the court at Eastbourne for a doubles competition, almost a year after her injury-forced exit from Wimbledon

 A lot has transpired in the world of tennis since the current world No. 1281 last struck a tennis ball in frustration.

For example, the majority of people had never heard of 18-year-old Emma Raducanu before she exited Wimbledon's first round last year with an injury, only to go on and win the US Open.

Since Serena Williams's final six games on Center Court last year, several significant sporting events have taken place. Former Wimbledon doubles champion Peng Shuai disappeared in China; Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia; players from Russia and Belarus were banned from SW19; and three-time ex-champion Boris Becker was sent to jail.

Twenty-three tiмe Grand Slaм winner Serena Williaмs is now ranked World No 1281

All of this and more has occurred in the time between Williams's last match and her return to the courts at Eastbourne to play doubles this week.

Unusually, arguably the world's greatest-ever female player has been absent from the sport's dramas, virtually disappearing from view in tennis terms.

While she has been visible on social media and at various launches and ceremonies, one of the most high-profile appearances was last year when Hollywood released "King Richard" – a film that portrayed how her father turned his daughters into superstars (Serena was an executive producer).

Williaмs’ last coмpetitive appearance ahead of Eastboυrne caмe at Wiмbledon last season

Given that her Instagram activity barely mentioned tennis and she did not enter Wimbledon, the widespread assumption was that she would not return. This impression was reinforced in April when her longtime coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, announced he would work with 2019 champion Simona Halep. Therefore, it caused quite a stir last Tuesday when she posted a picture of her feet in tennis shoes on a grass court.

Even in her fifth decade – she turns 41 in September – she continues to shape events in her own life and influence others.

The All England Club had planned to announce its wildcard list on Wednesday, but due to the interest in her, they advanced the declaration of who would receive privileged entries. Williams had requested her spot several weeks earlier, surprising officials with her reveal.

When you have won 23 Grand Slams, it grants you certain privileges, and there are no more recognizable figures in women's sport.

As John McEnroe, who will be working for the BBC during the tournament, puts it: 'Around the world, especially in America, she's up there with Michael Jordan and the all-time great athlete icons.'

Like everyone else, McEnroe is curious about her motivations after achieving so much and seemingly having nothing left to prove. It's plausible that she wouldn't want her last memory of Centre Court to be from last year, when she injured her left leg after slipping on the new grass.

Williaмs will partner Ons Jabeυr of Tυnisia

'She may be thinking, "I don't need to do this anymore." For a while, no one saw her really.'

'To see what happened last year, you sort of hate to see someone like Serena go out like that,' reflects McEnroe. This may well be her final Wimbledon, but if her body holds up through this summer, it seems unlikely to be her last tournament, as she also has her eyes on the US Open.

Both of these major events offer a high-profile platform, and while she has shown little interest in tennis in the past 12 months, she has been keen to maintain her visibility in the public eye.

The traditional tennis venue of Eastbourne is of a different category, and she has opted to ease back into competition with doubles, partnering with Tunisia's groundbreaking top-10 player Ons Jabeur.

Jabeur was delighted to receive the invitation: 'I'm pretty excited to play doubles with Serena. When I got the news, I was over the moon, and it is such a privilege for me,' she said.

No one will relish playing Williams at Wimbledon, and having a day off between matches will help her physically.

Her serve, perhaps the greatest shot ever in the women's game, will stand her in good stead, especially on grass.

However, it's a lot to expect her to make a deep run.

The fact remains that she has been stuck on 23 Slam titles – one behind Margaret Court – since the 2017 Australian Open.

She has lost the four Major finals she reached since then, suggesting she is a less intimidating figure to the top players. Yet in a year when Wimbledon is missing some top names and ranking points have been redistributed, she is a welcome late addition to the field, and there is unlikely to be a dull moment.

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