Serena Williams
Serena Williams took centre stage at Devonshire Park in Eastbourne, which houses the town's theatres and welcomes Jason Manford and Jayne McDonald later this month

There were signs that one of the greatest players of all time was going to retire.

On Tuesday, Serena Williams made her return to the tennis court, almost exactly a year since her last competitive match, and just weeks after many had predicted she wouldn't play again.

Williams performed at the hub of the sleepy seaside town's cultural scene and home to a number of theatres.

The 40-year-old American and Tunisia's Ons Jabeur won their first match in the doubles competition, which was an entertaining one.

She wants to play in the singles at Wimbledon, where she has won seven of her major titles.

Afterwards, she said she had doubts about playing again.

She said she's taking it one day at a time.

I didn't make a lot of decisions after this because I took my time with my injury.

Why there was speculation she might have quietly retired

Williams didn't play competitively for nine months when she began working with Halep.

She was 41 years old at the time. There wasn't much evidence that she had been practicing.

She said at the Australian Open that she wouldn't tell anyone if she ever said goodbye.

She casually dropped into conversation while she was preparing for Wimbledon while she was on an IG story with a football player.

She posted a picture of her feet on the grass with a caption that said " SW at SW19" It wasn't seen as a given.

Paula Badosa said it surprised everyone.

It's great to have her back and I was surprised how hungry she was for the game. It is an inspiration to me.

She can be back for a long time.

What has she been doing?

She writes in her bio that she's Olympia's mother.

Being a doting mother takes up a lot of Williams' time these days, but she has also been busy working on her business interests.

A clothing line named "Serena" was launched earlier this year, as well as a jewellery brand.

Williams is one of several high-profile backers of Angel City FC, an American women's football club which also has actresses Natalie Portman and Eva Longoria as investors.

She raised $111 million to start a venture capital fund that invests in entrepreneurs from diverse background.

She couldn't say if she could play into next year. I would not be out here if I didn't love tennis and play it.

I like what I do off the court, I've built with Serena Venture, it's interesting. It's a large amount.

How Williams' arrival left Eastbourne 'starstruck'

After canceling a practice session on Monday, Williams arrived at the practice courts at about 14:30 BST and word quickly spread around the grounds about what was happening.

Williams stepped on to the court in the shadow of the theatre hub in a far corner of the site.

The stage was ready.

There were a lot of long glasses pointing in the direction of Williams. The court was separated from the fans by a net.

Shortly after she showed up, she said she didn't know why Williams had picked her.

The pair had spoken before, but never about tennis, said the Tunisia.

After exchanging a warm handshake and smiling, the pair practiced volleys and served on the same side of the net for the first time.

The chemistry began to build as they played against each other.

The pair grew together when the curtain was raised for real.

Williams said that when they saw her name in, it was obvious that she would be great to play with.

I like her style of play. She has a great volley, a great drop shot, and has been having a great couple of years.

It was a good solution for me.

The crowd was in agreement. Hundreds stayed until the end of a match that ended at 20:27 local time on a summer evening which had turned chilly.

A female fan in front of the media seats said that it was worth it. It was a great night.

Fans were happy with her day out.

After leaving the practice court, Williams went back to the Winter Garden, where she signed autographs for a few lucky people.

Eden John, 8, poses with tennis ball signed by Serena Williams
Eden John, 8, watched her idol Serena Williams play live for the first time on her Eastbourne return

One of them was an eight-year-old tennis player named Eden John, who has pictures on her bedroom wall of Williams.

She said "you should have filmed my face the first time I saw her" and then pulled a face that showed how much she loved seeing Williams in the flesh.

She couldn't take her eyes off of her when she was hit. It's amazing to see a legend in our backyard.

They will get a chance to perform again on Thursday.

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