Serena Williams shook out any cobwebs from four months away from tennis with a 6-3 6-4 victory over France’s Pauline Parmentier in the first round of the Auckland Classic.
The 35-year-old had not played a competitive match since losing to Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals of the US Open last September, withdrawing from all tennis to deal with a persistent shoulder injury.
The 22-time grand slam winner, who had participated in a charity doubles match with sister Venus against All Blacks siblings Julian and Ardie Savea before the tournament started, was appearing for the first time in Auckland and persistent rain on Monday postponed her first round match until Tuesday.
World No.2 Williams struggled with the wind and had some rusty moments in the second set when the Frenchwoman broke in the fourth game and held three break points in the sixth.
The top seed was able to overcome them, however, and won the match with her eighth ace.
“It was my first match back in several months and I played a really good player,” Williams said courtside after she wrapped up victory in 75 minutes to set up a second round clash against qualifier Jamie Loeb or Madison Brengle.
“The wind was really getting to me. Every day I have practised here there was no wind but today it was so windy. So it was fun. Actually, it wasn’t fun, it was interesting.
“I’m feeling like I’m getting there. Every match counts.”
Danish star Caroline Wozniacki also started her 2017 campaign with a win, as she thrashed American Nicole Gibbs 6-1 6-0.
Wozniacki roared out of the blocks early, easily breaking personal friend Gibbs in her first return game and going on to win the first set 6-1.
The second set followed a similar script, as Wozniacki’s finesse and Gibbs’ repeated unforced errors propelled the match towards an early finish.
Gibbs committed four double faults and won less than 30 per cent of her second-serve points.
Wozniacki, meanwhile, was brutally effective with her serving game, winning more than 80 per cent of all service points.
The 2015 Classic runner-up endured a miserable 2016 campaign, exiting in the first rounds of the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
But a semi-final exit at Flushing Meadows and victories in late-season tournaments in Japan and Hong Kong have stoked hopes of a tilt at this year’s Australian Open for Wozniacki.