(CNN) — Former world No. 1 Serena Williams will make her long-awaited tennis comeback this week, determined to make the most of her “second chance.”
The American is playing her first tournament since claiming her 13th grand slam title at Wimbledon almost a year ago.
She has been recovering from a freak foot injury suffered in a restaurant and subsequent blood clots in both lungs that she thought might end her playing days.
Williams will be lining up at the Eastbourne grass court event on England’s south coast, a tournament the 29-year-old has not entered since 1998.
She told reporters ahead of her opening match against 2010 Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova that earlier this year she had been “on my death bed at one point — quite literally. I’ve had a serious illness but at first I didn’t appreciate that.”
“I definitely have a new perspective on life,” Williams told CNN later on Monday.
“I’m really honored to have a chance to walk out on the court, because three and a half months ago I didn’t think I would have that chance again.
“I just thought, if I can just pull through and survive, then wow, I would be really excited for that.”
Williams’ absence, along with that of her older sister Venus — who is also returning at Eastbourne — has allowed the 20-year-old Caroline Wozniacki to claim her crown as women’s queen.
Another former No. 1, Kim Clijsters, has won two of the last three grand slam titles while China’s Li Na has launched herself as a major contender with her maiden success at the French Open this month.
“Everyone’s playing really well on the women’s tour, the competition’s just so deep that everyone else is winning every other week, so I just hope that if I stay healthy then I can be one of those people who can take a win away as well,” Williams said.
Now ranked 25th, she aims to return to the top as she did when she won the Australian Open in 2007 after slumping to 95th in the WTA standings at the end of the previous year.
“I was actually hoping to be better where I left off because that was so last year. And this is a new year — if I could just do a little better, that would be awesome,” said Williams, who also won the Australian Open in 2010.
“My training regime has come a long way, I’m really excited to be back on the court and focused. I’ve been training hard and I’ve been training different now. I enjoy the fact that I’m working harder.”
On Monday, Venus Williams won her first match since retiring with a hip injury during the third round of the Australian Open in January, beating her opponent that day Andrea Petkovic.
Williams, who turns 31 on Friday, won 7-5 5-7 6-3 against the eighth-seeded German despite starting the match with two double-faults.
“Coming back from such a long layoff and competing against someone who has been playing so well the last 12 months, there was a lot going on out there, but I was extremely excited to come back with a win,” 33rd-ranked Williams said after setting up a second-round clash with either fellow former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic or Germany’s Julia Gorges.
“I never thought I’d be out about five months, I never thought it would take that long. There were times I felt I wasn’t getting any better, and that was frustrating. But I never let it slow me down.”
Clijsters, meanwhile, made a winning return to action in the Netherlands following her second-round exit at Roland Garros.
The top-seeded Belgian beat Romania’s Monica Niculescu 7-5 7-5 at the UNICEF Open in S’-Hertogenbosch, a tournament she won in 2003, to set up a clash with Swiss qualifier Romina Oprandi.
Young Dutch player Arantxa Rus, who ousted Clijsters in Paris before losing in the next round, was beaten 6-2 6-4 by Russian second seed Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Sixth-seeded Russian Maria Kirilenko, who ended Rus’ French Open hopes, was upset 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 by Japan’s 40-year-old former world No. 4 Kimiko Date Krumm.
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