INDIAN WELLS, USA - Serena Williams returned to competitive action for the first time in 14 months on Thursday night and scored a strong and convincing 7-5, 6-3 win over No.53 Zarina Diyas in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open. The 23-time major champion was playing her first match since her record-breaking run to the 2017 Australian Open title last January and subsequently taking a leave from the tour to give birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian last September. Next up for Serena is a rematch of the 2016 French Open semifinal against No.29 seed Kiki Bertens on Saturday.
Highlights from Serena's reflective press conference after the match:
On where she evaluates her level at the moment:
"I was thinking from zero to Serena, I'm probably at the 'S'. I got a little ways to go (laughs). But I'll get there. It's a journey for me. I'm not going to get there instantly. I'm just going to go for it."
On her emotions before the match:
"I almost cried before the match (laughs). I texted Alexis and was like, is it normal that I want to cry, because I really missed her. Playing at night really helped because I know she goes to bed, she goes to sleep. So I know I can't play with her right now so there's nothing I can do."
On her expectations as she begins her comeback:
"Right now, for this particular tournament, I'm really just trying to take it easy and not put too much stress or expectation on myself. This is one of the few times I've been able to do that. It's been really fun."
On the crowd's boisterous reception as she walked on court:
"It was really special. I usually don't crack a smile when I walk out. I always try to look down and be really focused. I couldn't help but smile. Everyone asks what do you like most about playing, and for me it's always that initial walk out to the crowd when it's just you and your opponent and everyone's there to see you two play. I forgot about that and it's my favorite part of playing."
On her new perspective:
"I'm playing with nothing to lose, I only can gain. I could have been playing like that for years. I really have nothing to lose right now. For me, it's a real joy to be out here. Sometimes I think about those moments I was in the hospital and just not really realizing how serious it was until later and being able to come through that makes me feel like no matter what happens I know I'm capable of being strong. Whether I win or lose, there's so much more to my life."
On whether she ever doubted she would be back:
"It was a never a question for me. The minute I realized I was going to take some time off I wanted to stay fit, I wanted to stay ready as best as I could. It just wasn't my time to retire yet. Even though it would have been a great way to retire I just felt like my story wasn't over and I definitely wanted to come back."
On where she rates her fitness:
"I'm taking it one day at a time. I'm not where I want to be but I'm getting there. That's what I realized, I'm not going to be there today, next week, or tomorrow, but I will eventually get there. I do have my goals about when I want to be peak and when I don't want to peak. At some point I need to start, and jump, and fly. I can do it. Every day is going to be a challenge for me but I know I will overcome it and I'm ready to overcome it."
Watch Serena's full press conference below: