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Serena Williams to return at pre-Wimbledon tournament

Serena Williams was last in competitive action at last year's Wimbledon tournament.
Serena Williams was last in competitive action at last year's Wimbledon tournament.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Serena Williams to return to competitive tennis at Eastbourne tournament
  • Williams has been sidelined for nearly a year through injury and illness
  • Serena's sister Venus also returns to action in same tournament
  • Roger Federer pulls out of grass court tournament in Halle

(CNN) -- Serena Williams will return to competitive tennis after nearly a year on the sidelines in the WTA tournament at Eastbourne, which starts Saturday.

The former world number one has endured a torrid time since being sidelined with a foot injury after winning her fourth Wimbledon crown last July.

Several aborted attempts at a comeback were followed by a major health scare in February as she suffered a blood clot on her lung.

It led to speculation that her glittering career could be over, but Williams has recovered to take her place as a wild card in the grass court event at the south coast of England resort.

"I am so excited to be healthy enough to compete again," she told the tournament's official website.

I am so excited to be healthy enough to compete again
--Serena Williams
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"These past twelve months have been extremely tough and character building. I have so much to be grateful for. I'm thankful to my family, friends, and fans for all of their support. Serena's back!"

Serena will be joined in the traditional pre-Wimbledon warm-up tournament by her older sister Venus, who is also returning to action after an extended injury layoff.

Venus has been sidelined since injuring her hip at the Australian Open in January.

They will take their place in a top-class line-up which has 13 of the top 20 players in the WTA world rankings, including new French Open champion Li Na of China.

13-time grand slam champion Serena returned to practice in April, but decided against returning for the second grand slam season of the season in Paris.

Eastbourne tournament director Gavin Fletcher said she would be guaranteed a warm welcome at their event.

"Eastbourne has always had a huge soft spot for Serena, and people here will be absolutely thrilled that she's back playing world class tennis," he said.

The 29-year-old has slipped to No.25 in the world rankings in her absence but should she come through Eastbourne unscathed, Wimbledon organizers could seed her higher due to previous performances on grass.

Meanwhile, top seed Roger Federer has pulled out of this week's grass court tournament in Halle, Germany.

Federer, beaten in the final of the French Open Sunday by Rafael Nadal, was due to play Australian Lleyton Hewitt in the first round but did not want to risk a groin injury ahead of his Wimbledon challenge.

Hewitt, who beat Federer in last year's final at Halle, will now play a lucky loser in the first round.