Top-seeded Serena Williams faced some early struggles before defeating Russia's Ekaterina Makarova 7-6 (8), 6-0 in the second round of the Dubai Championships on Tuesday. Williams, playing in Dubai courtesy of a wild card, has been sidelined with a back injury since losing to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round of the Australian Open last month.
It took Williams the first set to adjust to the left-handed Makarova's ability to jam many of her shots into the top-ranked American's body. "I felt a little rusty, but it was OK," Williams said. "Body is fine. I just had to get my feet moving, but it was OK."
The 24th-ranked Makarova broke Williams' serve in the first game of the match and was serving for the set at 5-4. That's when the Russian played an error-riddled game to allow Williams to even the score to 5-5.
Williams had one set point on Makarova's serve in the 12th game, but smacked a backhand return over the baseline. In the tiebreaker, Makarova had two set points at 6-4 and 6-5, but couldn't take advantage of the opportunities. Williams took the first set on her third set point in the tiebreaker when Makarova shipped a forehand long.
"I was really telling myself to stay positive, because I was making a lot of errors that I normally don't make, and my serve just wasn't popping the way it normally is," Williams said. "It definitely got better in the second set."
In the second set, the real Serena Williams showed up and raced to a 5-0 lead. However, she had trouble serving out the final game of the match - facing three break points before winning on her second match point when Makarova made a forehand error.
"She never gives up, and in that last game she started playing even better," Williams said. "I knew that I wanted to close it out there, because she'd probably feel comfortable with holding serve and it would have been a longer match."
Williams now plays Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic or fifth-seeded Jelena Jankovic of Serbia in the quarter-finals. Earlier, Ivanovic sent sixth-seeded Angelique Kerber packing 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6).
The former top-ranked Ivanovic had three match points on Kerber's serve in the 12th game but couldn't close it out against the German who reached last week's Doha final. Ivanovic even faced a battle in the tiebreaker. The Serbian led 5-1, but Kerber battled back to where she even had a match point at 6-5.
"The first two sets a little bit too many errors on my side and a little bit from her side," Ivanovic said. "She's such a tough competitor and retrieves lots of balls.
"'I'm just so happy to be through."
Seventh-seeded Simona Halep, who won last week's Qatar Open in Doha, retired with a right Achilles injury while trailing Alize Cornet of France 6-1, 1-1, in the first match of the day. Halep complained of an inflamed Achilles during her run to the Doha title.
"I wanted to try because I like to try to fight for my chance, but here I couldn't," Halep said. "After one set I realized that it is dangerous to continue."
Eighth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki had to overcome a one-set deficit to outmaneuver Sabine Lisicki of Germany 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 and move into the second round. "I knew she was going to come out hot and just go for her shots, and I felt like I was just a step behind," said Wozniacki, who sports an 8-carat diamond engagement ring from fiance, golfer Rory McIloy everywhere she goes except on court.
"It was nice to win this one, and, you know, onwards and upwards, as they say."
Wozniacki will face German qualifier Annika Beck in the second round. Beck defeated Samantha Stosur of Australia 1-6, 6-1, 6-4.