Serena Williams returned to singles tournament play in style Thursday with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Zarina Diyas on Thursday in the first round of the 2018 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California.
It was Williams' first singles match since she won the Australian Open on Jan. 28, 2017, when she was still pregnant with her child.
Kevin Skiver of CBS Sports noted "a lot has changed for the tennis superstar in the past year. She gave birth to her daughter and endured scary ordeal in the hospital after having an emergency C-section that left her bed-ridden for six weeks."
Healthy again, Williams was tested and never fully seized control against Diyas until the final two games of the second set.
She struggled to find her footing on the return in the early going, missing four break points in the fifth game and a chance to set the tone. She finally broke through when the opening set was tied at five games apiece, earning the first break of the match before finishing the set.
However, the serve Williams used to not even allow a break point in the first set disappeared in the second, as the two exchanged five consecutive break games with momentum swinging back and forth. Diyas failed to push the streak to six, though, and Williams put her worthy competitor away with yet another second-set break.
In all, Williams finished with four aces, won 63 percent of her first-service points and was a solid 5-of-11 on break-point chances, per the tournament's official website. It wasn't the most dominant performance of her career, but she was opportunistic down the stretch and demonstrated the ability to win one set with the serve and another in a returning battle.
The showing came after the American announced in an Instagram post Wednesday she was returning to singles play Thursday:
She chose a tournament she has experienced success at in the past, as Sports Illustrated noted she is attempting to become the first woman to win three different singles titles at the BNP Paribas Open with the others coming in 1999 and 2001.
It is easy to suggest Williams would have already won the third title, if not more, had she consistently played in the tournament, but Chris Chase of USA Today noted she boycotted the event for 13 years after her father, Richard Williams, said he heard racist comments and racially motivated boos directed at his daughter in Indian Wells in 2001.
Since then, Williams has cemented herself as arguably the greatest tennis player in history and is a mere one Grand Slam behind Margaret Court's record of 24.
Williams can't win a Grand Slam in this tournament, but she has a chance to add another milestone to her illustrious career with a third title. Next up is a round-of-64 matchup with Kiki Bertens before a potential third-round showdown with her sister, Venus Williams.
Williams won both of her head-to-head matchups with Bertens in the past—dispatching the opponent in straight sets at the 2016 French Open and the 2015 U.S. Open—and will look for similar success in the upcoming showdown.