By EMILY ANDREWS and PAUL HARRIS
Overcome: Serena Williams showed her emotions today after he first round victory by burying her head in a towel before openly crying as she left Centre Court
It's not the image that most people would associate with the so-called Queen of Mean.
Serena Williams – one of the toughest players on the tennis circuit – won her first-round match, sat on her chair … and then dissolved into tears.
Such a display might have been expected from a novice winning her first match at Wimbledon – rather than the defending champion who has won the title four times.
All too much: Miss Williams was upset because she has been out of the game for year following a severe foot injury and suffering from blood clots on her lungs
But as the 29-year-old explained later, emotion overwhelmed her because yesterday was a day she feared she would never see after a year in which her life – let alone her sporting career – almost came to an end.
The American has been absent from tennis for 49 weeks after suffering serious foot injuries in an accident, then life-threatening blood clots on her lungs. ‘It definitely hit me at the end of the match,’ she said. ‘I’m not a crier, so I don’t know.
‘It definitely was so emotional for me because throughout the last 12 months, I’ve been through a lot of things that’s not normal. So it’s just been a long, arduous road. To stand up still is pretty awesome.
Watching on: The large crowd sees Serena rifle down another serve during the match
‘So this was probably the most emotional I’ve gotten after a match, after a win.’ By the standards of some of her previous outfits, Miss Williams was dressed relatively soberly in a white tennis dress with navy piping, matched by a classic cable-knit cardigan – although her hot pants were black.
She added: ‘It wasn’t about winning the match. It was about being out there. Everyone that has had some troubles, whether it be health, whether it be something else, to realise that you can do it. But it just really goes to show if you don’t give up, you still have a chance.’
Hand raised in victory: Serena forces a smile seconds after confirming her win and before the emotion got too much
Within days of claiming her 13th Grand Slam title at the All England Club last summer, Miss Williams’s feet were cut by glass as she left a restaurant in Munich, wearing sandals.
Then in March she had trouble breathing and was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism.
She revealed: ‘I was on my death bed at one point – quite literally. It got to the stage where it felt like I could hardly breathe. Some days I didn’t get out of bed at all. I just laid on a couch thinking, why has this happened to me?
‘At first people said it would be fine, it would be all right but it turned out to be a lot more serious. If it had been left two days later it could have been career-ending – or even worse. They told me I had several blood clots in both lungs. A lot of people die from that.’
In action: Serena Williams plays a forehand during her two sets to one victory over French player Aravane Rezai
Knocked out: Aravane Rezai reaches for a shot during the defeat to Williams on Wimbledon's Centre Court
Floored Serena Williams makes winning lob