Serena Williams made a successful return in her first competitive match since giving birth in September with a win over Zarina Diyas at the BNP Paribas Open.
The 23-time grand slam singles winner was back in action in the opening round at Indian Wells, triumphing 7-5 6-3 in one hour 32 minutes.
The 36-year-old, who last competed in January 2017 when she won the Australian Open, got off to a strong start, gaining a break point in the opening game with a forceful backhand return although Diyas did well to hold serve.
The first serve continued to be Williams’ weapon, throwing her opponent off with a 100mph ace to go 40-0 in the second game.
While Williams used her serve to stay out of trouble, Diyas displayed a solid forehand, saving four break points to hold the lead at 3-2 in the first set and even receiving applause from Williams for a beautiful forehand on the run at 0-40.
But on her sixth break point, Williams finally triumphed to serve for the set, going on to win 7-5 in 48 minutes.
The American went on to claim an early break in the second set to lead 2-1 but Diyas continued with her determined approach to break straight back.
The breaks continued to go back and forth, with the second set seeing four in a row by the time the scoreline reached 3-3.
An increasing number of unforced errors started to creep into Diyas’ game, having hit just five in the first set, giving Williams the upper hand to fire her fourth ace of the match and hold for 5-3 before seeing out the match.
Speaking to the crowd on court after the contest, she said: “It was incredible, it’s been over a year, and a kid later, and I get to go home to her now, so I’m excited about that, but thank you so much for supporting me.
On the match, she added: “It definitely wasn’t easy. I’ve played her several times before and we always have a couple of tight sets, but it was good, you know, I’m a little rusty… But it doesn’t matter, I’m just out here on this journey and doing the best I can.”
Elsewhere in California, Sofya Zhuk claimed her her first WTA win over Alize Cornet, triumphing 7-5 6-4, and 18-year-old Catherine Bellis advanced to the second round for the first time at Indian Wells after beating Spanish qualifier Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-0 6-3, to set up a clash against defending champion Elena Vesnina.
There were also wins for Hsieh Su-wei, Jennifer Brady, Lara Arruabarrena, Katerina Siniakova, Natalia Vikhlyantseva, Mona Barthel and Ekaterina Makarova.