Former world number ones Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters have made triumphant returns to the women's tennis tour after long lay-offs with victories at the WTA and ATP Miami hardcourt tournament.
Seven-time grand slam champion Williams, who has not played a WTA event since pulling out of last year's US Open, defeated Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-0, 6-3, in 77 minutes.
Williams announced at last year's US Open she had been diagnosed with the auto-immune disorder Sjogren's Syndrome. The illness saps her energy and causes pain in her joints.
Clijsters, playing for the first time since her Australian Open semi-final loss to world number one Victoria Azarenka, rallied to eliminate Australia's Jarmila Gajdosova 4-6, 6-1, 6-0. The Belgian won 12 of the last 13 games to defeat Gajdosova.
"It's always tough to get that first match rhythm under your belt," Clijsters said. "When it comes down to my game I felt I wasn't quite going through my shots as I should have.
"I was just trying to find that rhythm, but on the other hand maybe forgetting to still play aggressive tennis. But as I started to feel more comfortable with the conditions and being in a match situation again I was hitting better, and that definitely showed in the second and third sets."
Clijsters, who won at Miami in 2005 and 2010, skipped last week's Indian Wells tournament to rest her injured ankle, the latest in a list of ailments in the past year that has also included a sore shoulder, wrist and abdomen.
"It's just a matter of getting those matches again," Clijsters said. "One thing I can count on is I have the experience, though. It doesn't take me that long to get used to it again. But it has become tougher."
Saying her ankle is at 95 per cent of peak fitness, Clijsters pondered how close she came to knocking off top seed Azarenka in Australia and how strong Azarenka - now undefeated this season in 23 matches - has played.
"I felt like I was really close to winning that match (at Melbourne Park)," Clijsters said. "She has been playing really good tennis. I think she's in a state of mind where she feels very confident and is on a roll.
"It's really showing in her game and in the way she approaches matches. I know what it's like to be in that situation, where you feel very focused but at the same time playing freely, without any worries."
Williams advanced to a second-round match against Czech third seed, and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who had a first-round bye. Next up for Clijsters is her match against Germany's 14th-seeded Julia Goerges.
First round matches began in the men's draw with Russian Nikolay Davydenko outlasting American James Blake 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, to book a second-round date with US 10th seed John Isner, the runner-up to Roger Federer last week at Indian Wells.
Colombia's Alejandro Falla was leading 6-1, 2-1 when Uzbek Denis Istomin retired with an injury, advancing the South American into a second-round match with British fourth seed Andy Murray.
Chile's Fernando Gonzalez was set to open his farewell event against Frenchman Nicolas Mahut on Wednesday night. Gonzalez, a three-time Olympic medallist, last month announced his decision to retire after this event.
AFPTags: sport, tennis, united-states First posted March 22, 2012 15:14:31