Yanking off a sneaker with pink accents and purple laces, Serena Williams revealed the scar that starts atop her right foot and meanders up her leg.
It's a jagged, several-inch remnant — and always there reminder — of two operations to repair the damage Williams did when cut by glass while leaving a German restaurant last July, just days after winning Wimbledon. That was the first in a series of health scares that wound up sidelining her for about 11 months.
"To this day, I don't know exactly how the injury happened", Williams said Sunday on the eve of this year's tournament at the All England Club.
"Something must have fallen. It's, like, the biggest mystery next to the Loch Ness Monster."
"I've never been able to figure it out," she added. "I just remember standing up the whole time, thinking, 'Ohhhhh, that really hurts."'
A request to see the scar came at the end of a question-and-answer session with a small group of reporters, and Williams hardly hesitated. After showing her right foot, she pulled off her other shoe and pointed to a smaller scar on the inside of her left foot, which also was sliced at the restaurant.
"I was, like, 'Be careful. There's glass. There's glass. Be careful,"' she recounted. "I'm, like, protecting everyone else.
"And then I looked down and, like, literally, there's this massive puddle of blood."
She wound up playing in an exhibition match against Kim Clijsters in Belgium later that week. But Williams had trouble with her right big toe and eventually had surgery twice on that foot, which she protected for 10 weeks with a cast, followed by 10 weeks in a walking boot. Then, early this year, she was treated for blood clots in her lungs and began taking blood thinners.
At the end of February, she returned to the hospital for another procedure, which she called the "low point" — removing a hematoma, a large gathering of blood under the skin on her stomach.
It wasn't until about a month ago that she was able to start practising at full force, and she's only played two matches heading into Wimbledon, not exactly ideal preparation as the grass-court Grand Slam gets started Monday.
But she is relieved simply to be back.
"I thought, 'I don't even know if I'll be able to play again,'" Williams said. "And then there was a time where it was like, 'Tennis doesn't even matter, I just want to get healthy."'
"Then came a point where I thought, 'OK, I can definitely play again. I just have to have patience."'
She's scheduled to face 61st-ranked Aravane Rezai of France on Tuesday in what will be Williams' first Grand Slam match in 50 weeks. Among those on Monday's schedule: Williams' older sister, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus; defending champion Rafael Nadal; three-time major runner-up Andy Murray.
'A stepping stone'
While at least one British bookmaker made the younger Williams the favourite to win what would be her fifth Wimbledon title — and 14th Grand Slam singles championship — she isn't putting any of that sort of pressure on herself.
At least not publicly.
"This is definitely a stepping stone," said Williams, who is 25th in Monday's WTA rankings but seeded No. 7 because of her past success.
"To be competing again is great. It definitely is one step in my journey.
"And I always say life's a journey — not a destination — and I'm not going to reach my destination today or tomorrow. But this is just a step for the rest of my career."
The 29-year-old American often has found time to pursue her other interests, including fashion design and acting, but now she has a fresh appreciation for her sport.
"I've always known that I love tennis and I really enjoy it but … I never thought I would miss it as much as I did," she said. "I always said I've had other jobs.
"But this one's my main job., But it just takes a whole new meaning now."
Williams said she was given a doctor's all clear after a scan of her lungs showed no clots about 2½ months ago — "Or else," she noted, "I wouldn't be here" — and she stopped taking blood thinners regularly about three weeks ago.
But she still needs to inject herself with blood thinners before taking long flights, such as her recent trip from the United States to Europe.
Williams' mother, Oracene Price, kept checking in to make sure she took the medication.
"She's been really worried," Williams said. "And she's been calling me a lot.
"Just like, 'If you have any pain or you feel you can't breathe, come off the court.' I'm, like, 'OK. I'll be OK."'
Williams, as intense a competitor as her sport knows, was asked whether she really would heed Mom's advice and stop during a match if she didn't feel well.
"Nah," came the reply. "I'd have a heart attack first."