Venus returns with 3-set win at Eastbourne

By CAROLINE CHEESE | June 13, 2011 | 1:44 PM EDT

Venus Williams of the U.S. plays a return to Andrea Petkovic of Germany at the Eastbourne International tennis tournament in Eastbourne, England, Monday, June, 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

EASTBOURNE, England (AP) — Venus Williams made a successful return to competition after a five-month layoff with a tough 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 win over eighth-seeded Andrea Petkovic in the first round of the Eastbourne International on Monday.

The 30-year-old Williams was clearly rusty. She began the match with two double-faults and made a series of unforced errors, particularly off the forehand side.

But the five-time Wimbledon champion won with her grass-court experience and aggressive play. She wasted three match points in the final game and saved a break point before finally clinching victory when Petkovic went wide with a forehand.

Williams said the blustery wind and damp air on England's southeast coast contributed to an erratic performance. The 30-year-old slipped on the baseline in the 11th game of the second set, almost doing a split.

"It was definitely an adventure today," she said. "Falling down every other point, coming back from such a long layoff, competing against someone who's been playing so well in the last 12 months.

"I was extremely excited to come back with the win. More than anything, I was just really extremely excited to have the opportunity to play another match."

In other matches, fifth-seeded Petra Kvitova beat Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 5-7, 6-1, 6-3. In the men's event, Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic easily defeated British wild card Colin Fleming 6-3, 6-4.

Petkovic was on the other side of the net when Williams had to retire from her last match at the Australian Open in January with a hip injury.

"It felt fitting, I guess," Williams said. "It was a great way to start it all off."

Petkovic went on to reach the quarterfinals in Melbourne and has since risen to No. 11 in the rankings. The 23-year-old led 4-2 in the first set before losing it 7-5, but she fought back to rally from a break down to take the second.

One break in the third set was enough for Williams to seal a spot in the second round, where she will play former top-ranked player Ana Ivanovic or Julia Goerges of Germany.

"It's a victory to be healthy," said Williams, who added that she felt no pain from her hip during the match. "As long as I can stay healthy, I know my game will just keep improving every day."

Sister Serena will make her return to action after nearly a year out against Tsvetana Pironkova on Tuesday. She could then face top-seeded Vera Zvonareva.