Serena Williams made a rusty return to action on Wednesday (AEST) but saw off a strong challenge from lowly-ranked Bernarda Pera to set up a juicy clash with sister Venus Williams in tennis’s biggest official match since the coronavirus hiatus.

Serena, who had not played a competitive game since a Fed Cup appearance in February, was forced to come from behind to defeat world number 60 Pera 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and 15 minutes at the Top Seed Tennis Club in Lexington.

Meanwhile Venus saw off former world number one Victoria Azarenka in straight sets to set up the superstar sisters’ 31st clash.

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“I haven’t played in so long,” Serena Williams said afterwards. “It was good for me play three sets and win a match in three sets.”

The 38-year-old former world number one looked to be flirting with an early exit in the second set, but recovered from 0-40 down at 4-4 before holding and eventually winning the set to level. She then demolished Pera 6-1 in the third set.

“I was pleased with my competitiveness, I’m always competitive but I stayed in the moment and didn’t get down on myself,” Serena said. “I don’t know if I have to work on anything in my game; I’m playing unbelievable in practice.

“I’m calm and I know I’m going to get better with each match but maybe I just need more rhythm, more time, just being out there with each match. I know it’s going to come.”

Williams will now play sister Venus, who beat former world number one Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-3 in her first win of the year.

Serena leads the match-up 18-12, with the duo set to meet for the first time since the 2018 US Open which Serena won 6-1, 6-2. They were set to face off on the clay of Rome last year, only for Serena to withdraw through injury before the clash.

Incredibly, their combined age is 78 – Serena turns 39 in September, while Venus turned 40 in June.

It is the oldest WTA clash since Cincinnati in 2010, when Kimiko Date played Jill Craybas with a combined age of 75.

But the intrigue of the Williams sisters – 22 years on since their first Tour clash at the Australian Open in 1998 – still hasn’t faded.

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“I think for the both of us (it was) to walk out there and hopefully play well, and I think we did,” Venus said.

“But yeah, from one grand slam winner to another; it’s quite the draw for me but quite honestly it’s perfect, I haven’t played forever. I want to play the best players and I think I got my wish to play Serena, so here we go.”

This week’s WTA tournament is the first to be staged in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the tennis season earlier this year.

The first WTA tournament since the season’s resumption took place last week in Palermo, Italy.

Another WTA tournament featuring Simona Halep is currently taking place in Prague, while men’s ATP tournaments will return next week.

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