An emotional Serena Williams has said her winning start to Wimbledon had helped her deal with 12 months of “disaster”.

Williams broke down in tears after being forced to work hard to dispatch the spirited Aravane Rezai of France 6-3 3-6 6-1 on Centre Court.

The 29-year-old Wimbledon champion was playing only her second tournament since recovering from surgery in March to remove life-threatening blood clots in her lungs.

She  has revealed she was “on my death bed at one point – quite literally”, and thereforer her ability to compete at the highest level has been questioned.

But Williams dispelled any lingering doubts by coming through a precarious second set to crush a determined opponent playing aggressive tennis.

Upon completing her victory the four-time Wimbledon winner began crying and later credited her fighting spirit for leading her though troubled times.