TORONTO (Reuters) - Serena Williams delivered an impressive physical performance in challenging conditions to return to winning ways at the Toronto Open on Monday and then said she can see the light at the end of the tennis tunnel in her career.
Williams was forced to dig deep during her 6-3 6-4 first-round victory over Spain's Nuria Parrizas Diaz that saw the two women exchange blasts from the baseline in sweltering conditions on a hot and humid centre court.
After playing only her second singles match since returning to action at Wimbledon in June after a year-long absence from competition, the 40-year-old Williams was asked what continues to drive her at this late stage of her glittering career.
"I guess there's just a light at the end of the tunnel," the 23-times Grand Slam champion, who remains on the entry list for next week's event in Cincinnati as well as the Aug. 29-Sept. 11 U.S. Open., told reporters. "Yeah, so that's like, lately that's been it for me. I can't wait to get to that light."
While Williams, whose win over Parrizas Diaz marked her first singles victory since the 2021 French Open, laughed while giving her answer she assured the media that she was not joking and went on to explain what the "light" represents.
"Freedom. Yeah. I love playing though, so it's like amazing. But, you know, I can't do this forever," said Williams. "So it's just like sometimes you just want to try your best to enjoy the moments and do the best that you can."
Williams definitely had her patience tested against Parrizas Diaz, most notably in a physically demanding and crucial 18-minute game during which she used her power to fight off four break points to get to 4-4 in the second set.
A number of younger players in the main draw this week have spoken about the influence Williams has had on their careers and the three-times Canadian Open champion said she was proud to have had a positive impact on them.
"It's a good feeling to just have other people feel that way about you. And, yeah, and just encourage them to be better. Because that's what it's all about, right?" said Williams.
"It's about making your mark and then someone else does and does better and that's kind of how it keeps going."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)