LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg - In her first match since the US Open, Venus Williams made a winning return at the BGL BNP Paribas Luxembourg Open Tuesday evening, overpowering WTA debutante Belinda Bencic, 63 61.
Williams was just too powerful for the 15-year-old Bencic, serving strong and controlling the rallies with her big groundstrokes - she won in 68 minutes.
"My opponent played really well - she was ready from the first point," Williams said. "She was determined, fought for every point and didn't miss a lot - that was great though, because I got to hit a lot of balls. It was a great first round for me."
Williams was broken once but apart from that was barely challenged on her serve, maybe a sign the back issues that plagued her at the end of the summer - and caused her withdrawal from Beijing - are finally behind her now.
"I was playing with some problems at the Open - it was difficult to serve, and that's a huge part of my game," Williams said. "But I have worked really hard to be able to be here, and I came planning to put some good serves in the box.
"I was happy with it today. Right now I'm going more for percentage than power, which is tough, because I really like hitting it hard! So it's 50-50 really."
Bencic was excited to play Williams. "It was a very great experience to play against Venus in my first WTA main draw," she said. "I was excited when I saw the draw. There were things I could have done better, but I'm happy how I did.
"She's a pro and is so calm on the court. I learned a lot today."
Williams was just as complimentary. "If she keeps working and training hard, and she fights hard like she did today, she can do very well. The sky's the limit."
This has been a comeback season for Williams, who missed seven months of play from September 2011 to March 2012 due to illness and has had worked her way back into the Top 50 with some impressive finishes, including the semis of Cincinnati and a slew of quarterfinals (and a slew of Top 10 wins too).
"At this time last year I wasn't able to play tennis. I was watching from home. But it's all a learning process. You just learn to cope mentally and physically - one of the biggest things I've learned this year is to focus on the things I can accomplish, as opposed to the things I wasn't able to accomplish. Sometimes I would think about what I couldn't do and I'd get very upset. I've learned from it.
"I've never felt as bad as I did last summer. I hope to never go there again. It's not something that goes away, but from last year to now is a huge difference.
"I'm still moving and I'm still improving my game, so I'm thankful."
Could the Olympics have had a part in bringing Williams back to the game? "My whole goal this year was to have a gold medal," she said. "The whole season was really exciting, but especially the Olympics. I feel really excited about what Serena and I did there - it made my year perfect. I couldn't have asked for more.
"I love tennis. I have the opportunity to play, so I'm going to play. And I'm so motivated by the Olympics - 2012 isn't over and I'm already thinking of 2016."