Teens Popovici and McIntosh steal limelight with golden victories as Dressel quits

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EASTBOURNE, England: Serena Williams stepped up her comeback as the American star powered to a second successive victory in the Eastbourne doubles with her partner Ons Jabeur on Wednesday.

Williams and Tunisia’s Jabeur defeated Shuko Aoyama and Chan Hao-ching 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Wimbledon warmup event at Devonshire Park.

Serena, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, is playing her first tournament since she made a tearful, injury-enforced exit from Wimbledon last year.

Williams, 40, had initially looked rusty on her first appearance for 12 months in Tuesday’s victory over Sara Sorribes Tormo and Marie Bouzkova.

But she grew into that match and was more like her old self in the second step on her comeback trail.

It took only two minutes for the American to send down an ace before several clinical volleys provided the first break.

The opening set was wrapped up in 25 minutes and another break inspired by Serena in the ninth game of the second set put them on the brink of victory.

One more ace for Williams’ tally helped get her and Jabeur over the line and they are now just two victories away from securing the title.

“I don’t know if you know the team name? It’s ‘OnSerena’!” Serena said of her partnership with Jabeur, who had never played with the American until this week.

“I have had some really good training leading up to Wimbledon and up to this tournament, really hitting the ball well. I feel like I have been serving well so that’s been really good.

“It was actually good match play and match practice, which is exactly what I needed. I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Serena admitted on Tuesday that she had doubts if she would ever make it back after her injury layoff, but her competitive juices are flowing again with Wimbledon on the horizon.

“I will always enjoy the competitive side. There is a part of me that will always miss it, no matter what happens,” she said.

“I was just recovering and taking time off, just taking mental breaks. Now when I’m back, it’s like, especially this match in particular, OK, you really remember the competitiveness.”

Before Williams made the surprise announcement of her return last week, rumors of retirement had swirled around her for several months.

But with Wimbledon starting on June 27, Williams has finally resumed her career.

She has been given a wildcard to play in the singles at Wimbledon as she restarts her history bid.

Williams is one Grand Slam crown away from equalling Australian Margaret Court’s record of 24 singles titles at the majors.

The last of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles came at the Australian Open in 2017.

Since then she has lost four Grand Slam finals, including at Wimbledon in 2018 and 2019.

Williams won the seventh and most recent of her seven Wimbledon singles titles in 2016.

Serena, who became a mother in 2017, has plummeted to 1,204th in the WTA rankings due to her period out of action.

Earlier Wednesday, Petra Kvitova battled into the Eastbourne women’s singles quarterfinals as the former Wimbledon champion fought back to beat Britain’s Katie Boulter 5-7, 6-0, 7-5.

Kvitova, who won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014, was in danger of a shock defeat against Boulter after the world number 127 took the first set of their last-16 clash.

Boulter had knocked out last year’s Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova in the previous round.

But former world No. 2 Kvitova showed her class as she took the second set at a canter.

The Czech, who last reached a Grand Slam final in Australia in 2019, held her nerve in a tense decider to win in two hours and 23 minutes.

In the men’s singles, Cameron Norrie defeated Brandon Nakashima 6-4, 6-2 for his first win on grass this season.

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