MELBOURNE • Serena Williams gave herself an "A" for effort yesterday, as she battled past Camila Giorgi to reach tennis' Australian Open second round and ease concerns over her injured knee.
In searing heat, the six-time Australian Open champion, who is gunning to equal Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 Grand Slam titles, ground down the Italian 6-4, 7-5 in 1hr 45 min.
Wearing a canary yellow pleated skirt and matching midriff-baring shirt, displaying her pierced navel, the American was composed but not her usual clinical self during the draining workout.
Williams' troublesome knee forced her to pull out of the Hopman Cup earlier this month and she was pictured taking treatment during a practice session in Melbourne on Saturday.
The women's world No. 1 had not played a competitive match since her shock US Open exit in September, but made light of her preparation problems as she beat Giorgi.
"It's great," Williams said, when asked about her knee injury. "It was an hour and 45 minutes and I didn't feel it at all.
"Okay, I haven't played in a long time, but I have been playing for 30 years, so it's kind of - I try to focus on that."
Asked how she rated her game, she credited her serve for seeing her home.
"I'm just thinking positive. You know, that match is done with. On to the next one," she said.
"So like I said, 'A' for effort."
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," she 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."
Chinese Taipei's Hsieh Su-wei now awaits in round two after she beat Latvian Jelena Ostapenko. The world No. 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."
The fifth-seeded Maria Sharapova, who pulled out of the Brisbane International two weeks ago with a left forearm injury, eased to a 6-1, 6-3 win over Nao Hibino.
She showed no side effects from the ailment in her 73-minute win over the Japanese player.
Her only stumble came while serving for the match when she was broken by Hibino, but Sharapova broke back in the next game to clinch the victory.
The sixth seed Petra Kvitova is also safely through to the second round 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 No. 76 Yulia Putintseva, while the American Stephens, the 24th seed and an Australian Open semi-finalist three years ago, was beaten 6-3, 6-3 by Chinese qualifier Wang Qiang.
The other women's seeds to be knocked out were Sara Errani, Andrea Petkovic, Samantha Stosur, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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