WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Serena Williams walked out on Centre Court under a closed retractable roof on Friday afternoon, taking advantage of Wimbledon’s new policy of allowing players to practice there and at No. 1 Court before the tournament begins next week.
Accompanied by coach Eric Hechtman — who has worked with her older sister, Venus, and replaces longtime coach Patrick Moratoglou, now with Simona Halep — and hitting partner Jarmere Jenkins, Williams returned to the site of her last official singles match anywhere, nearly a full year ago at the All England Club. That ended after less than a set, when Williams slipped on the slick turf and injured her right leg.
Wearing an all-white outfit and visor, Williams followed No. 1-ranked Iga Swiatek into the main stadium and went through about 45 minutes of training, from groundstrokes to volleys and overheads to her best-in-the-game serve. The courtside “mph” monitors were switched off, so there was no way to tell just how fast her serves were zipping, but the echoes produced by her hard-hit shots reverberated off the arena’s thousands of empty green seats and the white cover overhead as a light rain fell outside.
The scene played out a few hours after the draw determined that Williams will begin her Wimbledon comeback by facing Harmony Tan, a 24-year-old from France who is ranked 113th and owns a 2-6 career record in Grand Slam matches.
Because of her lack of activity over the past 12 months, Williams — who has been No. 1 in the rankings for a total of 319 weeks — is outside the WTA’s top 1,200 and could have ended up anywhere in the field. She only returned to the tour this week by playing two doubles matches at a tune-up event in England.
While the 40-year-old American’s track record would merit a seeding, the All England Club adheres strictly to the rankings for seeds.
Williams has won seven Wimbledon championships, part of her total of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, a record for the professional era. Tan, meanwhile, will be making her debut at the grass-court tournament.
If Williams gets past Tan, next up could be a match against Sara Sorribes Tormo, who is seeded 32nd but has never been past the third round in 19 past major appearances.
The third round potentially would put Williams against a tougher test: No. 6-seeded Karolina Pliskova, who was the runner-up to Ash Barty last year at Wimbledon and also reached the final of the 2016 U.S. Open — beating Williams in the semifinals there.
Barty retired in March and is not defending her title. So the honor of playing the first match at Centre Court on Tuesday, a slot traditionally reserved for the prior year’s women’s champion, will go to Swiatek, who just collected her second French Open trophy and enters on a 35-match winning streak. The tournament announced Friday that Swiatek was its pick for that Tuesday slot on the schedule.
The projected women’s quarterfinals based on seedings are Swiatek vs. No. 8 Jessica Pegula, Pliskova vs. No. 4 Paula Badosa, No. 2 Anett Kontaveit vs. No. 5 Maria Sakkari, and No. 3 Ons Jabeur vs. No. 7 Danielle Collins.
The potential men’s quarterfinals are top-seeded Novak Djokovic vs. No. 5 Carlos Alcaraz, No. 3 Casper Ruud vs. No. 7 Hubert Hurkacz, No. 2 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime, and No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. No. 8 Matteo Berrettini.
Djokovic won his third consecutive Wimbledon title — and sixth overall — by beating Berrettini in last year’s final.
Djokovic starts Centre Court play on Monday against 75th-ranked Kwon Soon-woo of South Korea.
Although Djokovic’s ranking has slid to No. 3, he leads the men’s seeding because No. 1 Daniil Medvedev and No. 2 Alexander Zverev are not in the field. Medvedev is Russian, and all players from that country and Belarus were banned by the All England Club because of the war in Ukraine. Zverev tore ligaments in his right foot during his French Open semifinal against Nadal, who went on to win his 14th championship there and men’s-record 22nd overall at the majors.