Serena Williams shrugged off her knee injury and lack of match practice to beat Italian Camila Giorgi in the first round of the Australian Open.
The American’s troublesome knee forced her to pull out of the Hopman Cup last week and she was pictured taking treatment during a practice session in Melbourne on Saturday.
The world number one had not played a competitive match since her shock US Open exit in September, but she made light of her preparation problems as she edged past Giorgi 6-4 7-5 in just under two hours.
“It’s great,” Williams said, when asked about her knee injury. “It was an hour and 43 minutes and I didn’t feel it at all.”
Giorgi, ranked 36th in the world, was the highest non-seed Williams could have drawn but she gave away too many easy points, particularly on her serve, which yielded 12 double faults.
Williams was certainly not at her barnstorming best in Rod Laver Arena but, after a long winter break, the top seed believes the extra rest stands her in good stead as she chases a 22nd grand slam title.
“It helped me a lot,” Williams said. “I think I just needed a break.
“I have been going non-stop since the Olympics in London, and seeing that this is another Olympic year, I kind of wanted to start the year out really fresh and really go at it again as hard as I can.
“I just needed that time to just recover the best of my ability and get really fit, you know, and really train and get ready for the season.”
Taiwain's Su-Wei Hsieh now awaits in round two after she beat Latvian Jelena Ostapenko. The world number 90 reached the Australian Open fourth round in 2008.
“She’s really young and really aggressive,” Williams said. “She’s really good, a talented player. She’s extremely young. Very dangerous.”
Sixth seed Petra Kvitova is also safely through after she cruised past Thailand's Luksika Kumkhum 6-3 6-1, but Caroline Wozniacki and Sloane Stephens both crashed out.
Wozniacki, seeded 16th, lost 1-6 7-6 (7/3) 6-4 to Kazakhstan’s world number 76 Yulia Putintseva, while America’s Stephens was beaten 6-3 6-3 by Chinese qualifier Qiang Wang.