ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Serena Williams had said her return to tennis this weekend at the Fed Cup would represent the “start of a long process.” Her first match in over a year showed how far she has to go.

In Williams’ first competition since giving birth five months ago, she and her sister Venus lost 6-2, 6-3 to Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands in a Fed Cup doubles match Sunday.

The U.S. already had clinched a victory in the best-of-five event thanks to a pair of singles victories by Venus Williams, so this doubles loss merely narrowed the final score to 3-1. The U.S. advanced to a World Cup semifinal April 21-22 at France, which defeated Belgium 3-2 this weekend.

“Honestly, I feel like we were all a team out here, us playing and everyone in the stands,” Venus Williams said in her postmatch interview in front of a sellout crowd of over 5,000. “It was all of us together, and it felt awesome.”

But this event was most notable for the return of Serena Williams. She hadn’t played competitive tennis since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant for her 23rd career Grand Slam singles title, one off Margaret Court’s record.

Serena Williams’ daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., was wearing a headband with an American flag design while sitting with her father, the Reddit co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, just behind the players’ bench.

Williams had told Vogue magazine that she developed small blood clots in her lungs after her daughter was born. The article said she was unable to get out of bed for six weeks after giving birth.

Her doubles match revealed the effects.

Earlier Sunday, Venus Williams defeated Richel Hogenkamp 7-5, 6-1 to give the U.S. a decisive 3-0 lead.

A scheduled singles match between CoCo Vandeweghe and Arantxa Rus was scrapped because the outcome of the event had been decided.

After Venus Williams’ singles victory Sunday, U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said the Williams sisters would play doubles together. The schedule originally called for Serena Williams to play alongside Lauren Davis.

The U.S. had taken a 2-0 lead Saturday when Venus Williams defeated Rus 6-4, 6-1 and Vandeweghe rallied from a set and a break down to beat Hogenkamp 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3.

“Honestly, I’d like to think CoCo wore her out some,” Venus Williams said after her own victory over Hogenkamp.

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